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Terms & Synonyms

Official WHO Definition

A slimy matrix produced and inhabited by bacteria, which enables the bacteria to adhere to a surface and carry out certain essential biochemical processes (WHO 2006).A layer of microorganisms held together by a matrix of organic polymers and found at the interface between water and a solid substrate in an aquatic environment (Symons et al. 2000).

Other Definitions


Interpretations and Explanations

During biofilm formation, the surface to which the film will attach is first conditioned by nonspecific binding; this process is followed by colonization of pioneering microorganisms, which multiply to form microcolonies or stacks (WHO 2006).Biofilms in natural environments are heterogeneous and contain a range of micro-environments conducive to development of a diverse bacterial population. A biofilm can be detrimental to a process (say, by fouling a water treatment membrane) or beneficial (as in a biological treatment system) (Symons et al. 2000).


WHO (2006) Legionella and the prevention of legionellosisSymons, J. M., Bradley, L. C. Jr. and Cleveland, T. C. 2000. The Drinking Water Dictionary. American Water Works Association.WHO/PAHO/SDE/CEPIS (2003)  Glossary on Environmental Health.   

WHO Lexicon page (translations and examples)

See also

External Resources


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