Interplay of physical mechanisms and biofilm processes: review of microfluidic methods
Bacteria in natural and artificial environments often reside in self-organized, integrated communities known as biofilms. Biofilms are highly structured entities consisting of bacterial cells embedded in a matrix of self-produced extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). The EPS matrix acts like a biological ‘glue’ enabling microbes to adhere to and colonize a wide range of surfaces. Once integrated into biofilms, bacterial cells can withstand various forms of stress such as antibiotics, hydrodynamic shear and other environmental challenges. Because of this, biofilms of pathogenic bacteria can be a significant health hazard often leading to recurrent infections. Biofilms can also lead to clogging and material degradation; on the other hand they are an integral part of various environmental processes such as carbon sequestration and nitrogen cycles. There are several determinants of biofilm morphology and dynamics, including the genotypic and phenotypic states of constituent cells and various environmental conditions. Here, we present an overview of the role of relevant physical processes in biofilm formation, including propulsion mechanisms, hydrodynamic effects, and transport of quorum sensing signals. We also provide a survey of microfluidic techniques utilized to unravel the associated physical mechanisms. Further, we discuss the future research areas for exploring new ways to extend the scope of the microfluidic approach in biofilm studies.