Microbial Biofilms

Dr. Birgit PruessDr. Birgit Pruess

My lab is focused on developing novel strategies to prevent biofilm formation in bacteria such as E. coli. Biofilms are a social form of bacteria that form on numerous surfaces, such as teeth, medical supplies or food processing equipment. A recent NIH-funded project examined the temporal and spatial expression of genes that contribute to biofilm formation. Genes expressed early are proposed as targets for the development of novel biofilm prevention strategies. Genes expressed at the outermost edge of the colony may serve as targets for the development of novel biofilm treatments.

A second project, funded by the State Board of Research and Education and the ND Beef Commission, aims at developing a liquid spray to reduce cell division, biofilm formation, and virulence in bacteria on the surface of beef. Over the course of the next few years, I expect a number of students at both, graduate and undergraduate level, to participate in this exciting project. If interested, please email me. I really enjoy the student supervision part of my work and like to hear from you.

These projects are based on previous success in developing a network of transcriptional regulation in E. coli that centers on the global regulator FlhD/FlhC. This work started with a book that I was invited to edit in 2005 and that introduced the global network (Prüß, 2005). As a continuation of the book, a review article combined these data into one network of transcriptional regulation, using the formation of biofilms as a connecting theme (Prüß et al., 2006). Together with Dr. Anne Denton from Computer Sciences, we developed software for the analysis of such transcriptional networks (Besemann et al., 2006). In addition, we developed new pattern algorithms for the analysis of complex microarray (Denton et al., 2008) and biofilm (Prüβ et al., 2010) data. Both, the software and the algorithm facilitate the analysis of complex data. This project is at the center of my research from which the experimental projects evolve.

Recently, my research has focused on the development of novel biomaterials that prevent the formation of biofilm. A significant breakthrough in this research was the discovery that by infusing polyurethane with a small chemical that had inhibited anti-microbial activities in beef broth medium and meat pieces (Lynnes et al., 2014). Polyurethane is a material that is commonly used in clinical and food processing settings. Future research will be the improvement of this material to become effective against a larger selection of pathogens, as well as pressing it into more practically relevant shapes (e.g. catheters).