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Biofilm Extracellular Polymeric Substances (EPS)

Biofilms are complex communities of microorganisms that adhere to surfaces and develop intricate structures called extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). These EPS play a crucial role in the formation, stability, and functionality of biofilms. Understanding the nature and functions of EPS can provide insights into various fields, including microbiology, environmental science, and medicine.

What are Extracellular Polymeric Substances (EPS)?

Extracellular polymeric substances, often abbreviated as EPS, are a matrix of polymers produced by microorganisms within a biofilm. This matrix holds the microbial cells together and anchors the biofilm to surfaces. EPS are primarily composed of a combination of proteins, polysaccharides, nucleic acids, and lipids. This intricate mixture provides structural stability and protection to the biofilm community.

Functions of EPS in Biofilms

Attachment and Adhesion: EPS serve as a glue-like substance that facilitates the initial attachment of microbial cells to surfaces. The polymers in the EPS matrix help anchor the cells to various substrates, such as rocks in aquatic environments or medical devices in healthcare settings.

The formation of the extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) matrix leads to the establishment of stable gradients. Figure 1. The formation of the extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) matrix leads to the establishment of stable gradients. (Flemming HC, et al.; 2016)

Microbial Communication: Within biofilms, microbial cells communicate with each other using signaling molecules. The EPS matrix helps in the distribution and concentration of these molecules, enabling coordinated behaviors like quorum sensing, where cells regulate gene expression based on population density.

Nutrient Trapping and Retention: EPS can capture and retain nutrients, metals, and other essential compounds from the environment. This function is particularly important in environments with low nutrient availability, as the trapped substances can be used by biofilm organisms for growth and survival.

Protection from Stressors: The EPS matrix acts as a protective barrier against various environmental stressors, including toxins, antibiotics, and physical disturbances. This protection enhances the survival of biofilm communities in challenging conditions.

Biofilm Structure and Architecture: EPS contribute to the three-dimensional structure of biofilms. The matrix forms channels and voids that allow for the movement of water, nutrients, and waste products throughout the biofilm, maintaining its overall structure and functionality.

Long-Term Survival: EPS aid in the long-term survival of microorganisms within biofilms. The matrix can provide shelter from predation and harsh environmental conditions, allowing biofilms to persist for extended periods.

Significance in Medicine and Industry

Medical Context: Biofilm formation on medical devices can lead to healthcare-associated infections that are challenging to treat. The protective nature of EPS makes the embedded microbes highly resistant to antibiotics. Researchers are exploring ways to disrupt EPS formation to prevent such infections.

Bioremediation: In environmental applications, biofilms play a role in bioremediation – the use of microorganisms to clean up polluted environments. EPS facilitate the immobilization and degradation of pollutants, aiding in the restoration of contaminated ecosystems.

Industrial Processes: Biofilms can impact industrial processes. For instance, biofouling, the accumulation of biofilms on surfaces like ship hulls or pipelines, can lead to increased energy consumption and maintenance costs. Understanding EPS formation could help develop strategies to mitigate biofouling.

Challenges and Future Directions

Despite their significance, studying EPS and biofilms poses challenges due to their complexity and heterogeneity. Developing methods to effectively visualize and analyze EPS in situ remains a priority. Researchers are also investigating ways to target EPS for therapeutic purposes, such as designing antibiofilm agents that disrupt EPS integrity.


In conclusion, extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) are vital components of biofilms with diverse functions ranging from attachment and protection to communication and nutrient retention. Their significance spans across various fields, and understanding EPS can lead to innovative applications in medicine, environmental science, and industry. As research in this field progresses, we can anticipate further insights into the intricate world of biofilms and their essential matrix, EPS.


  1. Flemming HC, et al.; S. Biofilms: an emergent form of bacterial life. Nat Rev Microbiol. 2016, 14(9):563-75.
For research use only, not intended for any clinical use.
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