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Title: Who put the film in biofilm? The migration of a term from wastewater engineering to medicine and beyond
Authors: Flemming, Hans-Curt
Baveye, Philippe
Neu, Thomas R.
Stoodley, Paul
Szewzyk, Ulrich
Wingender, Jost
Wuertz, Stefan
Keywords: Science::Biological sciences
Issue Date: 2021
Source: Flemming, H., Baveye, P., Neu, T. R., Stoodley, P., Szewzyk, U., Wingender, J. & Wuertz, S. (2021). Who put the film in biofilm? The migration of a term from wastewater engineering to medicine and beyond. Npj Biofilms and Microbiomes, 7(1), 10-.
Journal: npj Biofilms and Microbiomes 
Abstract: Sessile microorganisms were described as early as the seventeenth century. However, the term biofilm arose only in the 1960s in wastewater treatment research and was adopted later in marine fouling and in medical and dental microbiology. The sessile mode of microbial life was gradually recognized to be predominant on Earth, and the term biofilm became established for the growth of microorganisms in aggregates, frequently associated with interfaces, although many, if not the majority, of them not being continuous “films” in the strict sense. In this sessile form of life, microorganisms live in close proximity in a matrix of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). They share emerging properties, clearly distinct from solitary free floating planktonic microbial cells. Common characteristics include the formation of synergistic microconsortia, using the EPS matrix as an external digestion system, the formation of gradients and high biodiversity over microscopically small distances, resource capture and retention, facilitated gene exchange as well as intercellular communication, and enhanced tolerance to antimicrobials. Thus, biofilms belong to the class of collective systems in biology, like forests, beehives, or coral reefs, although the term film addresses only one form of the various manifestations of microbial aggregates. The uncertainty of this term is discussed, and it is acknowledged that it will not likely be replaced soon, but it is recommended to understand these communities in the broader sense of microbial aggregates.
ISSN: 2055-5008
DOI: 10.1038/s41522-020-00183-3
Rights: © 2021 The Author(s). Open Access. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit
Fulltext Permission: open
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
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