Studying bacterial biofilm formation across spatial scales
Although bacteria are capable of existing as single, unattached, planktonic cells, they often adopt an alternative lifestyle, in which they attach to surfaces and form large communities made of many cells known as biofilms. Bacterial cells in a biofilm community are tolerant to a wide variety of environmental stresses. Most notably they can become tolerant to antibiotics. Two such bacteria are Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Both these bacteria are opportunistic pathogens that can enter the human body, form a biofilm in the infected tissue and lead to severe disease. One of the most famous examples of these is Pseudomonas aeruginosa cells that form biofilms in lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis. Futhermore, in a hospital setting, biofilms can develop on medical devices such as catheters, leading to severe infections. Understanding how bacterial biofilms are built is therefore important to understand the colonization process of pathogenic bacteria.
Work in our laboratory ranges from biochemical purification of molecules that mediate biofilm assembly followed by atomic structure determination using X-ray crystallography or electron cryomicroscopy (cryo-EM) on one hand, to light and electron microscopy of cells and biofilms on the other (see Bharat et al, Nature 2015). Our ultimate goal is to understand how bacterial cells come together in three-dimensions to form complex biofilm communities. We would also like to understand how cells in biofilms become tolerant to antibiotic treatment (see Tarafder et al, PNAS 2020) and apply information from structural biology to develop strategies for treating problematic bacterial infections.
We collaborate with several scientists within the University of Oxford and with many laboratories outside Oxford. Please do get in touch if you are interested in working with us.