Lessons from Nature – Biofilms

Searching for Truth

Searching for Truth

What is a Biofilm?

And why am I telling about it?

No, I am not talking about video biographies.  I spent 2 days being trained on biofilms in October of 2010, and learned some things worth sharing.

A biofilm is a community of microorganisms attached to a surface in a wet environment.  Biofilms can grow on any surface, anywhere there is water.  They form the plaque on your teeth, the scum in your shower, the slime on river rocks, . . .

A bacterium that comes in contact with a surface while it is swimming along will grab on and attach itself to the surface.  It will throw away its flagella (the tail like appendage it uses like an outboard motor) and anchor itself to the surface with new post like appendages.  Like attracts like, so where one microorganism attaches, more will soon follow.

A whole community can spring up in a matter of hours.  Bacteria are not picky or prejudiced.  They will let anyone join their community, so most biofilms contain many different types of bacteria living and working in harmony with one another.  They communicate with each other chemically, even inter-species.

Where one microorganism attaches, more will soon follow

As they grow, biofilms grow complex structures like columns rather than just becoming one big blob.  They create channels that allow for the flow of water, nutrients, and oxygen through the community like the blood vessels in our circulatory system.  As a result, the biofilm does not starve or suffocate itself as it grows.

A biofilm “understands” its environment and responds accordingly.  Under favorable growth conditions, when there is a lot of food available, the community will send out “pioneers.”  Pioneers are single cells with flagella that are sent out to colonize new locations.

Under poor conditions, when there is no food available, the cells stop multiplying.  Instead, some are programmed to die and spill their guts.  The cells that lay down their lives this way, provide food for those surrounding them.  Their sacrificial death allows others to live.

I find these and many other facts about biofilms to be quite fascinating.  But why did I tell you about them?

Biofilms can illustrate many spiritual truths.  Here are four:

First – Even though people tend to refer to single cell bacteria as simple organisms, there is really nothing simple about them. They are highly complex! Their behaviors even seem intelligent. That is because extraordinary programming was designed into them. Complexity like this does not happen by chance. They were purposefully designed this way by an ingenious creator!

Second – Biofilms are like habits.  They can be good or bad depending on the circumstances.  Some bacteria help us digest our food.  Many bacteria break down and “eat”waste products.  For example, oil eating bacteria helped digest the oil that was spilled in the Gulf of Mexico.  This helped clean up the mess up for us and reduced the ecological impact.  But other bacteria can make us sick or do significant damage.

The best way to avoid biofilms is to prevent them from getting started.  Biofilms are easily removed when they are just beginning.  Regular cleaning will easily remove them.  However, biofilms form shells of inorganic deposits around themselves.  If biofilms are allowed to grow, these shells protect them, making them extremely difficult to remove.  Frequent cleaning to prevent them from getting established is the key.

Likewise, bad habits are much easier to prevent than they are to get rid of.  We need to stop them from getting established in the first place.  The best way to do that is to keep our lives clean, and confess our sin immediately as it occurs.

The best way to avoid bad habits is to prevent them from getting started

Third – The cells in a biofilm form a community.  Even if they are not all the same, they cooperate and work together for the good of the whole community.  Christians are all part of the body of Christ.  Even though we may have some differences, true Christians should all work together for the glory of God.

Forth – The programmed cell death that drives some cells to die so others can live reminds me of the gospel.  Jesus was our sacrificial lamb.  He laid down His physical life so we could live spiritually and have eternal life.
John 15:12 – This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
John 15:13 – Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 Jesus was our sacrificial lamb.  He laid down His physical life so we could live spiritually and have eternal life.

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