Biofilm and Its Formation in Water System : Pharmaceutical Guidelines

Biofilm and Its Formation in Water System

Biofilm formation in pipelines of water distribution system during the continuous running of system and methods to remove it.
Biofilm is a well-known problem of water systems in pharmaceuticals. It is produced by the bacteria and other organisms of various species. Bacteria and other microbes are attached to the inner surface of the water pipelines and start colonizing.

Sometimes pathogens can also participate in the formation of biofilms in the water distribution system. E.coli and Salmonella are more likely to be found in biofilms.

Biofilm formation in water system starts with the attachment of free-floating bacteria to the inner surface of water supply pipeline. Polymucosaccharides, secreted by bacteria helps to attach to the surface and cannot be detached with gentle rinsing. If these initially attached cells are not removed, these cells grow on the surface forming colonies and permanently attached to the surface with the help of pili and flagella

Biofilm Formation


These cells are embedded in a self-prepared matrix known as slime layer or EPS (Extracellular Polymeric Substance) which protects them from the external environment. Slime layer is an initial stage of biofilm formation and produced by the byproducts secreted by these attached microorganisms. These slime layers are hydrophobic in nature that helps the microorganisms remain attached to the surface.

After the maturation of biofilm, it starts releasing microorganisms spreading in water which cause continuous contamination in the water system.

Biofilm formation takes a very short period if water remains stagnant in water distribution system.  Dead legs and rough surface also cause the biofilm formation. Therefore, water system should always remain in continuous recirculation having a smooth surface and no dead leg. These biofilms cannot be disinfected easily and re-colonize again in the very short time period after the removal of disinfecting agent. Most of the biofilms are resistant to weak disinfectants as chlorine, ozone etc.

Biofilm-associated microorganisms are also resistant to low concentrations of antibiotics than free-living microbes. E.coli in biofilms requires 500 times more concentrate amphicillin to get 3 log reductions and Staphylococcus aureus requires 10 times more concentration of vancomycin to get 3 log reductions.

The properties of biofilm-associated bacteria may completely differ from the free-living bacteria of same species. The growth of microorganisms remains slow then the free-living probably because of the availability of the nutrients available in the biofilms.

These biofilms also damage the pipes because of the presence of sulfate-reducing bacteria those produce hydrogen sulfite as a byproduct. This hydrogen sulfite reacts with the iron of pipes causing leakage and breaks down.

Biofilm Removal from Water System

Removal of biofilm from water system is not an easy task. It is always much better to prevent the system from the biofilm formation than its removal. But when occurred it is first treated with strong acid i.e. nitric acid followed by strong base i.e. sodium hydroxide. 

By these, both inorganic and organic compounds associated with the biofilm are removed very effectively resulting its separation from the surface. Now the whole system is disinfected with the strong disinfectants as hydrogen peroxide. Use of UV light in the water system is an effective way to prevent the biofilm formation.







Ankur Choudhary is India's first professional pharmaceutical blogger, author and founder of Pharmaceutical Guidelines, a widely-read pharmaceutical blog since 2008. Sign-up for the free email updates for your daily dose of pharmaceutical tips.
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  1. The term ‘Biofilm’ was coined by Bill Costerton in 1978. In 2002, Donlan and Costerton offered the most salient description of a biofilm. They stated that biofilm is “a microbially derived sessile community characterized by cells that are irreversibly attached to a substratum or interface or to each other, embedded in a matrix of extracellular polymeric substances that they have produced,
    A biofilm can be defined as an aggregation of bacteria, algae, fungi and protozoa enclosed in a matrix consisting of a mixture of polymeric compounds, primarily polysaccharides, generally referred to as extracellular polymeric substance (EPS).Or we can also define Biofilm as a cocktail of different types of Micro-organisms which constitute different types of bacteria or may be fungi.




    What Is Biofilm?
    You may not be familiar with the term biofilm, but it is something that you come into contact with every day. The plaque that forms on your teeth and causes tooth decay and periodontal disease is a type of biofilm. and you may have encountered biofilm coated rocks when walking into a river or stream. Biofilms form when bacteria adhere to surfaces in some form of watery environment and begin to excrete a slimy, glue like substance that can stick to all kinds of materials–metals, plastics, soil particles, medical implant materials, biological tissues. Biofilms can be formed by a single bacterial species, but biofilms more often consist of many species of bacteria, as well as fungi, algae, protozoa, debris, and corrosion products. Essentially, a biofilm may form on any surface exposed to bacteria and some amount of water. Dental plaque is a yellowish biofilm that builds up on the teeth. Biofilms contain communities of disease causing bacteria and their uncontrolled accumulation has been associated with cavities and gum disease (both gingivitis and periodontitis).
    In the past, scientists studied bacteria by looking through a microscope at cells suspended in a water droplet.

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