Biofilms, accumulations of microorganisms at interfaces, have been described for every aqueous system supporting life. The structure of these microbial communities ranges from monolayers of scattered single cells to thick, mucous structures of macroscopic dimensions (microbial mats; algal-microbial associations; trickling filter biofilms). During recent years the structure of biofilms from many different environments has been documented and evaluated by use of a broad variety of microscopic, physico-chemical and molecular biological techniques, revealing a generally complex 3D structure. Parallel to these investigations more and more complex mathematical models and simulations were developed to explain the development, structures, and interactions of biofilms. The forces determining the spatial structure of biofilms, including microcolonies, extracellular polymeric substances (EPS), and channels, are still the subject of controversy. To achieve conclusive explanations for the structures observed in biofilms the cooperation of both fields of investigation, modelling and experimental research, is necessary. The expanding field of molecular techniques not only allows more and more detailed documentation of the spatial distribution of species, but also of functional activities of single cells in their biofilm environment. These new methods will certainly reveal new insights in the mechanisms involved in the developmental processes involved in the formation and behavior of biofilms. (C) 2000 Federation of European Microbiological Societies.
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