IMPORTANT LEGAL NOTICE - The information on this site is subject to adisclaimerand acopyright notice
Contact   |   Search  
Cell factory - Back to the homepage Graphic element
Foreword Graphic element
Table of contents
Index by Index by Area Index by Partners Index by Keywords Gr&phic element
Volume 2

Phototrophic biofilms and their potential applications: Towards the development of a unifying concept (PHOBIA)



Cell factory area


EU Contribution

1,340,976 Euro


36 months



Starting date

01 October 2002

anti-fouling coatings
artificial neural networks
oxiradical production
physico-chemical gradients

Phototrophic biofilms are communities, driven by photosynthesising micro-organisms, and occurring on interfaces in terrestrial and aquatic environments. Such biofilms cause biofouling on submerged objects, but also have a great bioremediation potential for water and soils. PHOBIA proposes to grow aquatic phototrophic biofilms in a specially designed incubator, in which micro-environment, architecture, growth and biodiversity of the biofilm communities will be analysed, and in which their major physiological processes will be quantified. In contrast to heterotrophic biofilms, predictive models are not available for phototrophic biofilms. Our objective is to develop a unifying model of a phototrophic biofilm, and to use that for management and control of phototrophic biofilms in existing and new applications.


Predictive models are not available for aquatic biofilm systems, driven by photo-autotrophic micro-organisms. This is a serious shortcoming because phototrophic biofilms have a variety of important applications, e.g. in the control of biofouling on ships and underwater constructions, in the prevention of deterioration of buildings and in the bioremediation of waste water and polluted soils. Extracellular polymeric substances produced in these biofilms may enhance the stability of sediments and soils, and may be used for the development of adhesives. The project's overall objective is to develop a unifying model of a phototrophic biofilm. This model will be developed on the basis of experiments in which the physico-chemical micro-environment, the structure, the dynamics, the biodiversity and the physiological processes of marine and freshwater biofilm communities will be studied. The model will be made available to users, for management and control of biofilm development.


PHOBIA proposes to grow aquatic (freshwater and marine) phototrophic biofilms on submerged surfaces in the laboratory using fully controlled incubators (flow cells). Surface interactions (biofilm-substratum), and biofilm strength will be studied, and compounds derived from seaweeds will be used to investigate:

  1. their effectiveness in inhibiting the cell adhesion via oxiradical production.
  2. their potential for application as alternative, natural anti-fouling coatings.

Growth and development will be analysed by a variety of microscopic techniques. Images obtained by laser scanning microscopy will be analysed and quantified via a user-friendly software tool that has been developed, (and that is also available to other image processing specialists). Physico-chemical gradients in the biofilm micro-environment will be measured using a variety of state-of-the-art microsensors.

A number of relevant physiological processes will be quantified, which include: photosynthesis and respiration, production, conversion and fluxes of organic compounds, including the production of extracellular polymeric substances. Fingerprints of the contributing organisms will be produced, using pigments, fatty acids and molecular phylogeny. The positioning of specific dominant biofilm-producing micro-organisms will be detected by laser scanning microscopy in combination with molecular probes, and this information will be included in the analysis and quantification of structure, biomass and growth. The information produced by these work packages will be used to produce models for biofilm architecture and growth, and for physiological activity. The final product will be a unifying phototrophic-biofilm model, based on artificial neural networks (ANN).

This model is essential for the management and control of phototrophic biofilms in various existing and new applications.


The experimental work will be done using an incubator for aquatic phototrophic biofilms. The design and functioning of the incubator will be described, also in a report to the EC. The results of the experimental work will be stored in a database, and annual reports will be written to the EC. The scientific results will be made public, both via a website (summarised) and via publications in scientific journals. On this website, potential users will be informed on the progress; users can submit questions and responses to the PHOBIA consortium. The dataset, provided from the various work packages in which the experimental work is done, will be used to construct the final model based on artificial neural networks (ANN). This model will be made available to end users, and will be delivered to the EC on CD-ROM and as a final report. The model will be demonstrated in a course with users interested in the model, and in its applications. Possible applications will be illustrated to the public.

Jan Willem Rijstenbil
Centre for Estuarine and Coastal Ecology (CEMO)
Netherlands Institute of Ecology
PO Box 140, 4400 AC Yerseke, The Netherlands
Tel: +31-113-577 300
Fax: +31-113-573 616
Thomas Neu
UFZ Centre for Environmental Research Leipzig-Halle
Department of Inland Water Research Magdeburg
Brückstrasse 3a,
39114 Magdeburg, Germany
Tel: +49-391-810 9800
Fax: +49-391-810 9150

Jonas Almeida
Biomathematics Group / ITQB
Instituto de Tecnologia Química e Biológica (ITQB)
R Quinta Grande 6,
2780-156 Oeiras, Portugal
Tel: +351-21-446 9856
Fax: +351-21-442 8766

Michael Kuehl
Marine Biological Laboratory
University of Copenhagen
Strandpromenaden 5,
3000 Helsingoer, Denmark
Tel: +45-49-213 344
Fax: +45-49-261 165

MarkVan Loosdrecht
Faculty of Applied Sciences
Department of Biotechnology
Delft University of Technology
Julianalaan 67,
2628 BC Delft, The Netherlands
Tel: +31-15-278 1618
Fax: +31-15-278 2355

Patrizia Albertano
Department of Biology
University of Rome "Tor Vergata"
Via della Ricerca Scientifica S.N.C.,
00133 Rome, Italy
Tel: +39-06-7259 4859
Fax: +39-06-202 3500