Researchers create computer model to predict behavior of bacteria

Scientists say they have found a way to reliably mimic the behavior of bacteria with a computer model. This should, among other things, lead to insights that help disinfect equipment.

The computer model was designed by scientists at the University of Notre Dame. They have focused on research into so-called biofilms, ecosystems of bacteria. In these biofilms, the bacteria have created conditions in which they can survive comfortably. As a result, biofilms are difficult to combat: they are more often resistant to antibiotics than ‘simple’ bacterial colonies.

At the University of Notre Dame, the scientists mainly focused on simulating the so-called viscoelastic effect. That is the phenomenon that a biofilm stretches itself and can subsequently tear loose. This complex behavior is important, because biofilms mainly occur in places where liquid flows are located. Breaking biofilms can lead to blood vessel blockage in the body, but equipment such as catheters and irrigation systems can also be affected.

Being able to predict such behavior with a computer model should make it easier to ‘manage’ biofilms, according to the scientists. For example, it should lead to strategies to better combat bacterial ecosystems, for example on medical equipment where there is a risk of infection. On the other hand, the insights should also promote the growth of biofilms in places where this is desired: for example, bacteria in biofilms play an important role in the processing of wastewater.

Based on experiments in which the behavior predicted by the model was compared with observations, the scientists showed that their approach reliably mimics nature. However, it is not yet clear when the insights obtained can be applied in practice.

A biofilm as seen under an electron microscope.