Gene transfer occurs with enhanced efficiency in biofilms and induces enhanced stabilisation of the biofilm structure

Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2003 Jun;14(3):255-61. doi: 10.1016/s0958-1669(03)00036-3.


There has been much interest in bioremediation based on the introduction of bacteria able to catabolise recalcitrant compounds deposited in the environment. In particular, the delivery of catabolic information in the form of conjugative plasmids to bacterial populations in situ has great potential. As most bacteria in the environment live in surface-associated communities (biofilms), the gene transfer systems within these communities need to be better characterised for bio-enhancement strategies to be developed. Recent findings suggest that gene transfer does take place within biofilms, but studies also identified limitations and bottlenecks of the process. The dense population structure in biofilms increases plasmid dispersal by conjugation, and the conjugation mechanism itself may stimulate biofilm development. Moreover, DNA release and transformation seem to be part of a biofilm-related life cycle and released DNA stabilises the biofilm structure. Both of these gene-transfer mechanisms may be autocatalytically promoted in biofilms, presenting new possibilities for efficient bio-enhancement strategies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / genetics*
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Conjugation, Genetic*
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Environmental Pollution / prevention & control
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Bacterial / genetics*
  • Gene Transfer Techniques*
  • Genetic Engineering / methods*
  • Plasmids / genetics*
  • Transformation, Bacterial / physiology


  • Environmental Pollutants