Scientist J. William Costerton To Speak On 'Battling Biofilms' At Denison Lecture
Date of Event: October 2, 2003
Posted: September 23, 2003
Denison University's Anderson Lecture Series will sponsor a convocation featuring scientist J. William Costerton who will speak on "Battling Biofilms in Nature and Disease" at 8 p.m., Thursday (Oct. 2) in Slayter Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public.
Costerton earned a bachelor's and master's degree in bacteriology and immunology from the University of British Columbia and holds a doctorate in bacteriology from the University of Western Ontario. Costerton has served as director of the Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University--Bozeman since 1993. In addition, Costerton holds several biological patents and is president of the Microbios Company. He has pioneered research on biofilms and is recognized as an international authority on the subject.
In 1978 when Costerton was a University of Calgary postdoctoral student, he shook up the established science of microbiology with a new view of bacterial life. He and his team worked out a way to see the structure of the slimy substance that seemed to anchor bacteria to surfaces in cattle stomachs, and thereby discovered that bacteria act differently inside and outside of a test tube. Natural bacterial colonies were creating their own microhabitat, sticking to surfaces and covering themselves with a slimy layer of protective molecules, which Costerton named biofilms.
Costerton feels that the most important discovery to-date about biofilm bacteria may well be this one: that when a cell attaches to a surface, it expresses a different set of genes than it did as a planktonic cell, and becomes, effectively, a significantly different organism. The importance of this discovery is underscored by the fact that microbiologists have been studying and developing control strategies exclusively for planktonic cells for the past 180 years. These traditional studies have enabled control of planktonic bacterial problems (acute infections, beer spoilage); but since most chronic infections and many system problems involve biofilm bacteria, significant progress in dealing with these problems must take into account the profound differences presented by biofilm bacteria.
Costerton and his team have applied their knowledge to developing new technologies in areas ranging from oil production to bacteria-resistant medical devices. Biofilm-related problems cost US industry billions of dollars every year by corroding pipes, reducing heat transfer or hydraulic pressure in industrial cooling systems, plugging water injection jets, and clogging water filters. Some biofilms can cause serious trouble for industry when they establish colonies inside metal piping and hasten corrosion, a process that accounts for half of the forced outages at steam-driven electric power plants.
In addition, biofilms cause major medical problems through infecting host tissues, harboring bacteria that contaminate drinking water, and causing rejection of medical implants. Bacteria growing in biofilms have many different characteristics from free-floating cells, which explain why biofilm infections respond poorly to antibiotics and evade body defense mechanisms. Costerton writes, "Investigators have now identified signaling molecules used by biofilms that grow, among other places, on urinary catheters. These films and the films that thrive on permanent medical implants cause the most worrisome types of biofilm infections, affecting close to 10 million people in the U.S. every year." Biofilms have also been culprit in periodontal disease, prostate infections, kidney stones, tuberculosis, and some infections of the middle ear. Costerton has written an article inScientific Americanin which he says, "The microbes that cause many stubborn infections organize themselves into complex films-biofilms-that can be almost impossible to eradicate with conventional antibiotics." However, now that biologists understand how bacterial biofilms form, it should be possible to control them with drugs able to target their unique properties, according to Costerton.
Denison University, founded in 1831, is an independent, residential liberal arts institution located in Granville, Ohio. A highly selective college enrolling 2,100 full-time undergraduate students from all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries, Denison is a place where innovative faculty and motivated students collaborate in rigorous scholarship, civic engagement and the cultivation of independent thinking.
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