Themes and Speakers

Professor Rikke Louis Meyer

Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center, Aarhus University, Denmark

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Theme: BIOGENESIS OF THE BIOFILM MATRIX

Rikke Louise Meyer is Professor at the Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Center (iNANO) at Aarhus University, Denmark, where she established her research group in 2005. Her research combines microbiology and nanoscience in the pursuit to understand the mechanisms of bacterial attachment and biofilm formation. She uses this knowledge to develop new strategies for biofilm control in collaboration with industry – either through development of new materials, discovery of new antibiotics, or targeted delivery of antimicrobial therapies.

 

Extracellular DNA: A multifunctional biofilm component

The significance of eDNA for the biofilm structure has been known for two decades, and it appears to be the one component that almost all biofilms have in common.  New research shows that eDNA in biofilms has multiple forms. In addition to the canonical B-DNA double helix, eDNA also forms the left-handed Z-DNA, and several G’s coordinate to form G-quadruplexes. These non-canonical DNA structures provide new functionality to eDNA. Z-DNA is mechanically strong, and G-quadruplexes provide elasticity. We show that these structures are abundant in biofilms subjected to mechanical stress under certain environmental conditions. Furthermore, both structures resist the enzymatic digestion by DNase I and may therefore be critical for the biofilm’s resilience. We propose that non-canonical DNA structures also play a role in extracellular electron transfer, and we have shown that these structures form DNAzymes with catalytic activity. We are only now starting to understand how the versatile structure and function of eDNA affects the biology of bacteria in biofilms.

 

Professor Cynthia Whitchurch

Quadram Institute Bioscience

Norwich, UK

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Theme: BIOGENESIS OF THE BIOFILM MATRIX

Professor Cynthia Whitchurch FAA is a Group Leader in the Quadram Institute Bioscience in Norwich, UK. She obtained her BSc (Hons I) in 1989 and her PhD in 1994 from the University of Queensland.  Her research focusses on understanding alternate bacterial lifestyles including how bacteria survive antibiotic treatment through cell wall deficiency, how bacteria build biofilms, and how they co-ordinate collective behaviours. The outstanding quality of her research has been recognised through prestigious fellowships and awards. In 2019 she was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science for her discoveries of novel roles for extracellular DNA in biofilms.

 

Autolytic programmed cell death in Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilms

The extracellular matrix of biofilms is comprised of a complex mixture of polysaccharides, nucleic acids, proteins, membrane vesicles, small molecules, surfactants and cellular debris. Whilst specialised secretion systems are responsible for producing some of these matrix components, many others are released into the extracellular milieu as a consequence of cell lysis. Pseudomonas aeruginosa possesses a complex autolytic programmed cell death system that results in explosive cell lysis events that contribute biofilm matrix materials including eDNA and membrane vesicles. We are currently exploring the molecular machinery that leads to explosive cell lysis and how this autolytic programmed cell death system is regulated.

 

 

Associate Professor Cao Bin

Associate Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE), Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

Theme: BIOGENESIS OF THE BIOFILM MATRIX

Dr. Cao Bin is an Associate Professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and a Principal Investigator in the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His research efforts are focused on understanding biofilm-mediated environmental processes and harnessing the power of microbial biofilms to address environmental issues (www.bcaolab.org). Specifically, his research team uses environmental engineering, (bio)chemical engineering, microbiology, and molecular/synthetic biology tools and develop new tools to (i) understand biofilm-mediated environmental processes and biofilm-contaminant interactions, (ii) engineer microbial biofilms with defined structural and functional characteristics, and (iii) develop biofilm-enabled approaches for environmental biotechnological applications. Ongoing projects in his group include biofilms as a source of extracellular DNA in natural and engineering environments; biofilm-plastic interaction in coastal and marine environments; and engineering controllable biofilms for biotechnological applications.

 

Biofilm Biology-informed Biofilm Engineering

Biofilms are highly complex and dynamic biological systems, which makes it challenging to develop biotechnological applications of biofilms. In the past decade, our understanding on biofilm biology, in particular, composition and biogenesis of matrix and regulatory networks controlling biofilm lifestyle, have been greatly improved. The knowledge from biofilm biology enables us to harness the power of the biofilm matrix and control biofilm dynamics for various applications. The main research efforts in my group are focused on understanding biofilm-mediated environmental processes and applying the knowledge and insights of biofilm biology to develop biofilm-based solutions to pressing environmental issues. In this presentation, I will share some of our recent work on engineering biofilm matrix for bioremediation and resource recovery and controlling biofilm dynamics for biochemical production.

Professor Jeremy Webb

Microbiology, University of Southampton, UK

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Theme: BIOFILM MATRIX STRUCTURE & FUNCTION

Webb is Professor of Microbiology at the University of Southampton and is Co-Director and Co-Founder of the National Biofilms Innovation Centre in the UK. He works on understanding complex microbial consortia and biofilms, their ecology, evolution and life-cycle dynamics, and how they respond and adapt to their environment. Through NBIC, he is developing national, international and interdisciplinary strategies in research and innovation to address the global challenges relevant to biofilms.

 

Biofilm-bacteriophage dynamics and contribution to extracellular DNA and matrix integrity.

There is increasing recognition that bacteriophage, as specialised viruses of bacteria, can influence biofilm development, dynamics and function and that this in turn can impact human health and disease states.  We have identified and studied filmentous bacteriophage, which have a single-stranded DNA genome, and shown that they can promote bacterial aggregation, biofilm formation and chronic infections. We have also studied the dynamics of how filamentous phage contribute to the extracellular DNA (eDNA) within the biofilm matrix of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a critical component influencing biofilm stability and antimicrobial resistance. By employing long-read DNA sequencing techniques, we have examined the composition of eDNA, revealing a significant overlap with host genomic DNA, but with a marked enrichment of sequences related to (but not always entirely homologous to) filamentous phage. These findings provide new insight into eDNA origins within biofilms, and suggest the novel possibility of biofilm reinforcement through phage-derived eDNA. This research not only expands our understanding of biofilm structural dynamics but also underscores the potential of phage-based interventions in combating biofilm-related diseases or for controlling or engineering biofilm function.

 

Associate Professor Lim Sierin

Associate Professor, School of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, Nanyang Technological University (NTU)

Theme: BIOFILM MATRIX STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION

Sierin Lim is an Associate Professor of Bioengineering/Biotechnology at the School of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU). Her research group focuses on the design and engineering of hybrid nano/microscale biodevices using proteins for applications in health and the environment. Specifically, her Bioengineered and Applied Nanomaterials Lab (BeANs Lab) uses protein cages as the building blocks and a platform for formulation and delivery of active molecules to the skin. Her lab also explores the utility of protein cages to enhance contrast in imaging atherosclerotic plaques. In her Molecular & Cellular Bioengineering Lab (MCBe Lab), she leads a program in engineering enzymes and microbes to up-cycle plastic wastes to oil, cellulose, and cannabinoids using cyanobacteria, cellulose bacteria, and yeast.

She is currently serving as the Associate Dean of Global Partnerships at the NTU Graduate College. She earned her B.S. in Chemical Engineering and Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

 

 

Professor Cait MacPhee 

School of Physics and Astronomy, The University of Edinburgh, UK

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Theme: BIOFILM BIOPHYSICS

Cait MacPhee is Chair of Biological and Soft Matter Physics at the University of Edinburgh. Although now a physicist by trade, she began her academic studies in the life sciences, and has a foot in both camps. She studies soft materials, whether goo, jelly, foams or ice cream. Her research interests lie in the application of physical methods to: the understanding of biomolecules; investigating the formation and structure of microbial communities; the mechanistic basis for protein diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease; and the generation of novel materials based on biological ideas. In addition to fundamental research Cait aims to expand the delivery of research breakthroughs to policy-makers, as well develop new resources for effective communication with the general public. She has a particular interest in enhancing the profile of women in science and industry and is co-Director of the National Biofilms Innovation Centre in the UK.

 

Unpicking the matrix of Bacillus subtilis biofilms

Bacillus subtilis is widespread in the environment, where it needs to withstand a wide range of conditions, from the low temperatures of soil to the high temperatures found in compost heaps and desert sands. It is a model organism for biofilm formation wherein the biofilm depends on the secreted proteins BslA, TapA and TasA, along with exopolysaccharides. BslA forms an ordered film at the air/biofilm interface rendering the biofilm highly water-repellent. TapA is necessary for TasA function in vivo where one postulated role of TapA is in cell attachment. TasA is a fibre-forming protein integral to biofilm structure which forms both amyloid and non-amyloid fibres in vitro, although it is yet unclear which form dominates in vivo. We have recently demonstrated that B. subtilis can remodel its matrix in response to environmental temperatures, forming an alternative matrix that facilitates fluid uptake and retention. I will provide an overview of the Bacillus subtilis matrix composition and our current understanding of matrix adaptability, which may have implications in other microbial species.

Professor Berenike Maier

Institute for Biological Physics, University of Cologne, Germany

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Theme: BIOFILM BIOPHYSICS

Berenike Maier is a professor of experimental physics at the Institute for Biological Physics of University of Cologne. Her group focuses on the physics of bacterial systems. One major research topic is bacterial biofilms. How do bacteria control the mechanical and electrical properties of biofilms? How do these physical properties affect tolerance against antibiotics? They employ a combination of nanotechnology, quantitative imaging, and molecular biology to tackle these questions. The second main research interest of the group is horizontal gene transfer. What are costs and benefits of horizontal gene transfer? Under which condition does it speed up adaptive evolution? They develop laboratory evolution approaches using high-throughput methods together with genomics to address these questions.

 

Bacterial electricity: Unexpected spatio-temporal polarization patterns in bacterial colonies

Membrane potential in bacterial systems has been shown to be dynamic at the single cell level. However, little is known about spatio-temporal patterns of membrane potential in bacterial biofilms. We discovered a transition from uncorrelated to collective dynamics within colonies formed by the human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae. I will discuss how gradients of growth factors affect electrical polarization and whether the polarization pattern is an emergent phenomenon of early biofilms. Our findings highlight that the polarization pattern can signify the differentiation into distinct subpopulations with different growth rates and antibiotic tolerance.

Professor Atul N. Parikh

School of Biomedical Engineering, University of California, Davis, USA

Theme: BIOFILM BIOPHYSICS

Atul N. Parikh is professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of California, Davis. Since 2013, he is also a Visiting Professor in the school of Materials Science & Engineering, SCELSE (RCE), and IDMxS (RCE) at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He studied Chemical Engineering  at the Dept. of Chemical Technology (UDCT) University of Bombay (B. Chem. Eng., 1987) and Materials Science (Emphasis: Polymer Science) at the Pennsylvania State University (Ph.D. 1994). Between 1996 and 2001, as postdoctoral scholar and then technical staff member in the Chemical Science and Bioscience divisions at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), he explored design of biologically inspired materials and biosensors. His present research interests are focused on bio-inspired materials, biosensors, membrane biophysics, and soft matter.

 

Understanding the Roles of Matrix-Derived Entropic Forces in Biofilm Assembly and Organization.

The matrix of the biofilm is dense, crowded with many different biopolymers including polysaccharides, proteins, nucleic acids, and amphiphilic molecules.  Collectively termed extra-cellular polymeric substances or EPS, these biopolymers generate emergent physical forces, such as osmotic stresses, bridging interactions, and depletion effects. These forces subject the bacterial cells to emergent, physicochemical forces.  Key examples include constrained diffusion, depletion forces and excluded volume interactions, and colloidal osmotic stresses.  Together with the better appreciated intermolecular interactions (e.g., H-bonding, ionic, van der Waals, and hydrophobic), these non-specific entropic forces play important roles in the formation and organization of biofilms.  Taking examples from recent literature, this talk will highlight an emerging perspective that the synergy between these physical forces and biological mechanisms is critical for the adoption and sustenance of the biofilm lifestyle.

Professor Henny van der Mei

University of Groningen, Netherlands

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Theme: BIOFILM MATRIX CONTROL STRATEGIES

Henny C. van der Mei obtained her PhD in 1989 on physico-chemical surface properties of oral streptococci at the University of Groningen. She became a full professor in 2001 at the department of Biomedical Engineering at the University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands. From 2011 to 2015 she was the director of the W.J. Kolff Institute for Biomedical Engineering and Materials Science. Her present research interests include the mechanisms of bacterial adhesion, antibacterial coatings on surfaces, the interplay between bacteria, tissue cells and the immune system,  how antibiotics can penetrate a biofilm and how to fight antibiotic resistance of bacteria. She supervised more than 100 PhD students and published over 600 peer reviewed papers.

 

Biofilm matrix control strategies

Increasing occurrence of intrinsically antimicrobial-resistant, human pathogens and the protective biofilm-mode in which they grow, dictate a need for the alternative control of infectious biofilms. Biofilm bacteria utilize dispersal mechanisms to detach parts of a biofilm as part of the biofilm life-cycle during times of nutrient scarcity or overpopulation. We here identify recent advances and future challenges in the development of dispersants as a new infection-control strategy. Deoxyribonuclease (DNase) and other extracellular enzymes can disrupt the extracellular matrix of a biofilm to cause dispersal. Also, a variety of small molecules, reactive oxygen species, nitric oxide releasing compounds, peptides and molecules regulating signaling pathways in biofilms have been described as dispersants. On their own, dispersants do not inhibit bacterial growth or kill bacterial pathogens. Both natural as well as artificial dispersants are unstable and hydrophobic which necessitate their encapsulation in smart nanocarriers, like pH-responsive micelles, liposomes or hydrogels. Depending on their composition, nanoparticles can also possess intrinsic dispersant properties. Bacteria dispersed from an infectious biofilm end up in the blood circulation where they are cleared by host immune cells. However, this sudden increase in bacterial concentration can also cause sepsis. Simultaneous antibiotic loading of nanoparticles with dispersant properties or combined administration of dispersants and antibiotics can counter this threat. Importantly, biofilm remaining after dispersant administration appears more susceptible to existing antibiotics. Being part of the natural biofilm life-cycle, no signs of “dispersant-resistance” have been observed. Dispersants are therewith promising for the control of infectious biofilms.

 

Associate Professor Lakshminarayanan Rajamani

Co-head, Ocular Infections & Anti-Microbials Research Group, Singapore Eye Research Institute

Theme: BIOFILM MATRIX CONTROL STRATEGIES 

Associate Professor Lakshminarayanan Rajamani is the Co-Head of the Ocular Infections & Anti-Microbials Research Group at the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI). He holds joint appointments at the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the National University of Singapore (NUS) as well as at the Academic Clinical Program in Ophthalmology & Visual Science program at the Duke – NUS. He received his PhD degree from the Department of Chemistry at the National University of Singapore in 2003. He received numerous awards such the prestigious Singapore Millennium Foundation – Post Doctoral Fellowship, ASEM-DUO Denmark Fellowship, Outstanding Postdoctoral Fellow and Outstanding Scientist Award. At SERI, he has been involved in translational research for treating bacterial and fungal infections of the eye. His major research interests include antimicrobial nanofibres, peptides & polymers, biophysics, nature-inspired polyphenol nanocoating, electrospinning of biopolymers for advanced wound dressings and personal protective equipment, mechanism of protein aggregation and functional amyloids. He has >150 publications that have an h-index of 54 and 8500 citations.

 

Guarding Vision: Tackling antimicrobial resistance and biofilm formation in ocular infections

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is considered as a clinical superchallenge of this century and a major global health crisis. The evolution of AMR undermines the years of development of antimicrobials and resulted in infectious disease that was once treatable becomes non-responsive to the antimicrobial therapy regimen causing substantial economic burden. More worrisome is the fact that only few new antimicrobials have been developed/approved over the last few years which is not keeping in pace with the emergence of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus are the major etiological agents responsible for bacterial keratitis. In this talk, I will highlight the antibiogram of ocular infections collected from Asian populations, the translational strategies in combating antimicrobial resistance, and prevention of biofilms on contact lenses.

 

Dr Joseph Lo Zhiwen

MBBS, B Med Sci, MMed (Surgery), FRCSEd, FAMS, FACS, FEBVS, PhD (candidate)

Woodlands Health

 

Theme: BIOFILM MATRIX: TRANSLATIONAL IMPACT 

Joseph is a Senior Consultant and Head of Vascular Surgery Service at Woodlands Health, specializing in diabetic limb salvage and wound care. He is a Clinician-Scientist with the National Healthcare Group, securing over S$5 million in research grants and co-authoring 65 publications. Joseph received several awards including the Society of Vascular Surgery International Scholars Program in 2020, NMRC Research Training Fellowship in 2021, and the National Healthcare Innovation and Productivity Medal (Care Redesign) in 2022. He contributes to the medical community as a board member of the Chapter of General Surgeons, College of Surgeons (Singapore), and currently serves as the Honorary Secretary of the Society for Vascular and Endovascular Surgeons of Singapore.

 

Biofilm Matrix: Translational Impact in Chronic Wounds

Biofilm formation in chronic wounds presents a formidable challenge in clinical management, exacerbating the complexity of wound healing. These structured communities of microorganisms, encased in a protective matrix, adhere to the wound bed and evade host immune responses, leading to persistent infection and impaired healing. The biofilm’s dynamic nature fosters antimicrobial resistance, rendering conventional treatments less effective. Understanding the intricate interplay between biofilm formation, host factors, and wound environment is paramount for developing targeted therapeutic strategies. Novel approaches aimed at disrupting biofilm integrity while promoting tissue regeneration hold promise in improving outcomes for patients with chronic wounds. Efforts to elucidate the molecular mechanisms underlying biofilm pathogenesis and identify biomarkers for early detection are essential for advancing wound care paradigms and enhancing clinical outcomes. Although an abundance of studies in recent years has focused on the various ways to create potential anti-biofilm and antimicrobial therapeutics, a dearth of a clear standard of clinical practice remains, and therefore, there is essentially a need for translating laboratory research to novel bedside anti-biofilm strategies that can provide a better clinical outcome.

 

Professor Patricia Conway

PC Biome Pte Ltd.

Theme: BIOFILM MATRIX: TRANSLATIONAL IMPACT 

Dr Patricia Conway, BSc & MSc (Uni of Qld, Australia), PhD (UNSW Australia), is Visiting Prof at SCELSE at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Adjunct Prof at UNSW Australia and Chief Scientist/CEO and Founder of PC Biome Pte Ltd, Singapore. She is also Founder/Director and Research Director of two Biotech companies in Australia.  She has successfully combined basic research and translational applications for over 30 years by being affiliated with university for supervision of doctoral students (>20 to date) and the basic research while being industry employed, or by working closely with industry while being university employed. She has over 100 publications in international peer reviewed journal. Several globally marketed products for gut microbiome modulation have been commercialised from her work, and are supported by the IP platform including over 20 primary patents.

Patricia’s research interests are gastrointestinal microbiology, probiotics and prebiotics, with particular emphasis on the importance of the gut microbiome for health and well-being. She has focused on mechanisms of bacterial adhesion, pathogen inhibition and immune modulation in animals and humans. In particular, health conditions linked to inflammation, infection and metabolic disorders and developing intervention strategies for improving health, especially in infants and the elderly.

 

Biofilm-based strategies for enhanced efficacy of probiotics

It is well established that the gut microbiome impacts on the health of the host. Health benefits have been linked not only to gut health, but links to immunological, neurological, metabolic and cardiovascular conditions have been reported. Consequently, there is considerable interest in developing strategies for modulating the gut microbiome for health benefits. One such strategy is the use of probiotics, however, there is considerable variation in the reported benefits of the various probiotic preparations.  The specific strains of probiotic exhibit different benefits and this has been proposed to be linked to the capacity of the individual strain to survive gut conditions, and to adhere and colonize the gut. It is established that the matrix surrounding the probiotic cells influences the survival and adhesion capacity. While some probiotic strains have a natural extracellular matrix, and survive and adhere better than those lacking the protective matrix, it is possible to provide protection of the probiotic cells in a matrix, or grow them in conditions that favour the production of the extracellular matrix. These approaches are being utilized to ensure better survival and colonization of the probiotic cells and hence facilitate better efficacy of the probiotic products. For example, enhanced extracellular matrix has been achieved with simple additives to growth media have included sugars and salts, while complex mixtures have been produced by growing the probiotic in oats and honey. In addition, coating the probiotic in a matrix can increase survival in gut conditions. In summary, probiotic cells can be protected by an extracellular matrix and thereby have enhanced capacity to modulate the gut microbiome for health benefits.

Mr Dillon Chew

Procter & Gamble (P&G)

Theme: BIOFILM MATRIX: TRANSLATIONAL IMPACT 

Dillon is an R&D Scientist at Procter & Gamble’s Singapore Innovation Center where he works at the intersection of microbiology, bioinformatics, and data science to drive innovation across consumer product categories. In his current role within the Discovery and Innovation Platforms team, he focuses on the development and application of bioscience capabilities to advance microbial control strategies. His work spans various areas, ranging from assay development and modelling to evaluate anti-biofilm ingredients, to multiomic studies for skin, fabric, and oral care products. Dillon’s background mixes synthetic biology and industrial biotechnology. He holds an MPhil in Biotechnology from the University of Cambridge, and dual bachelor’s degrees in Chemical Engineering and Life Sciences from the National University of Singapore.

 

Interactions and effects of a Stannous-containing Sodium Fluoride dentifrice on oral biofilms

Summary: Maintaining a healthy and balanced oral microbiome is crucial for oral health. At present, good oral hygiene practices such as regular toothbrushing with an active ingredient that controls bacterial growth are an effective way to help control the accumulation of dental plaques or the oral biofilm, which can lead to oral diseases such as caries and periodontitis over time. One such active ingredient is stannous ions, which have long been used in toothpastes to control dental plaque. Although various studies have investigated the effects of stannous ions on specific microbes and their plaque-reducing efficacy in clinical settings, our understanding of their impact on the oral biofilm is still an ongoing area of exploration. In this talk, I will discuss our efforts to understand how these compounds influence microbial community structure and spatial organization of intact oral biofilms so as to guide the translation of technologies into products that can promote oral health.

 

Dr Gregory Poi

Biofilm Engineering Technology Consultancy Services Pte Ltd, (BeTECS)

Theme: BIOFILM MATRIX: TRANSLATIONAL IMPACT 

 

Dr Greg is the Director at Biofilm Engineering Technology Consultancy Services Private Ltd (BETeCS), with a focus in sustainable bioremediation of sites contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbon. He has completed several large-scale industry projects rehabilitating petroleum-contaminated soil and groundwater, as well as biotreatment of industrial wastewater. He is currently exploring the mitigation of environmental pollution using green biotechnology. He is also the author of several papers and holds two patents in bioremediation technologies.

 

The Use of Biofilms in Soil and Groundwater Restoration in Oil Impacted Areas

Pollution and leaks from oil spills into the environment are toxic and persistent, and traditional methods for cleaning up these wastes have severe drawbacks. This presentation highlights alternative green technologies utilising patented microbial consortia for the rehabilitation and bioremediation of contaminated sites.

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