University of California, Berkeley researchers have developed a tool to look into the world of bacteria that causes chronic infection in patients and the protective mechanism that makes some immune to antibiotic treatment.

Biofilm forms as a reaction to the introduction of bacteria. Using super-resolution light microscopy, which has ten times the resolution of standard light microscopy, the researchers observed a single bacterium grow and rapidly form a cluster.

Within six hours, the bacterium secreted a glue-like protein that created a protective shell, called a biofilm. Researchers used different colored fluorescent dyes to observe the distinct stages of biofilm development. They even created a 3-D stop-action movie that looks like the construction of a small city.

[youtube_sc url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MfV-TLbtr0″] 

The tenacious bacteria and its coating can cause stubborn and difficult-to-treat lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients, chronic sinusitis, cholera and infections around medical implants such as pacemakers, hip and knee replacements and stents.

UC Berkeley’s Department of Physics and the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences published their findings and 3-D pictures of the biofilm in the July 13th edition of the journal Science.

So far, doctors have only been able to rid a patient of a chronic infection by surgically removing the infected tissue. For a patient with an infected hip prostheses, a sterilized replacement implant has been found to effectively remove the chronic infection, however, that is done at great cost to the patient. Removing additional tissue and muscle in a patient who has undergone hip revision surgery, may limit the number of surgeries he can have in the future.

Now that they can see its formation, researchers eventually hope to be able to target the protective biofilm so antibiotics can work on killing the bacteria.

About 80 percent of all human infections are protected by biofilms.

The discovery has an application to any patient who suffers from chronic infections or implant patients whose foreign device becomes infected.