Biofilms occur in a broad range of environments under heterogeneous physicochemical conditions, such as in bioremediation plants, on surfaces of biomedical implants, and in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients. In these scenarios, biofilms are subjected to shear forces, but the mechanical integrity of these aggregates often prevents their disruption or dispersal. Biofilms' physical robustness is the result of the multiple biopolymers secreted by constituent microbial cells which are also responsible for numerous biological functions. A better understanding of the role of these biopolymers and their response to dynamic forces is therefore crucial for understanding the interplay between biofilm structure and function. In this paper, we review experimental techniques in rheology, which help quantify the viscoelasticity of biofilms, and modeling approaches from soft matter physics that can assist our understanding of the rheological properties. We describe how these methods could be combined with synthetic biology approaches to control and investigate the effects of secreted polymers on the physical properties of biofilms. We argue that without an integrated approach of the three disciplines, the links between genetics, composition, and interaction of matrix biopolymers and the viscoelastic properties of biofilms will be much harder to uncover.
- soft matter physics
- synthetic biology