Understanding and harnessing microbial biofilms for environmental, industrial, medical and public health solutions employing a multi-disciplinary research approach
Field of Research (FoR)
Professor Staffan Kjelleberg is the founding director of the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE), a national Research Centre of Excellence hosted by Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore and the University of Singapore, focusing on discovering, controlling and directing the behaviour of microbial biofilm communities and microbiomes for sustainable environmental, engineering, public health and...view more
Professor Staffan Kjelleberg is the founding director of the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE), a national Research Centre of Excellence hosted by Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore and the University of Singapore, focusing on discovering, controlling and directing the behaviour of microbial biofilm communities and microbiomes for sustainable environmental, engineering, public health and medical applications. He also directs the Singapore National Biofilm Consortium, which fosters significant interactions and close collaborations among IHLs, research institutes, government agencies and industry in Singapore. Kjelleberg is a Distinguished University Professor at NTU.
During his leadership at both UNSW and SCELSE, Professor Kjelleberg focused on comprehensively understanding microbial biofilm behaviour in multiple settings. He has, over the past three decades, adopted a progressive and novel strategy for unravelling biofilm mechanisms and developing disruptive technologies, including extra- and intra-cellular signalling communication and regulation, and biofilm differentiation and development. This approach is based on the ecological and evolutionary traits that bacteria employ to persist and thrive in all environments, which involves two fundamental aspects. Firstly, interactions among co-occurring species living with biofilm communities, and secondly, the emergent properties of the biofilm matrix understand the role matrix exopolymers play in the biology, structure and function of microbial biofilms.
Owing to the commonality of microbial biofilms in all systems, Kjelleberg’s research crosses multiple fields, enabling inroads into addressing challenges in public health and medicine, urban and environmental sustainability, and environmental engineering. Notably, Kjelleberg’s strategy accommodates both the biofilm mode and multi-species communities to understand microbial life in natural settings, and has provided significant breakthroughs of scientific and societal value, such as countering the failing efficacy of traditional antibiotics and growing antimicrobial resistance in all settings. Moreover, his emphasis on unravelling biofilm emergent properties has now also identified specific aspects of the biofilm matrix as significant targets for biofilm control.
Collaborations with UNSW involve marine holobiont biology, World Harbour Project, coastal sediment microbiomes, all of which is underpinned by a strong emphasis on ecological theory applied to both macro and microorganisms; as well as the micro-evolution of biofilm cells in response to stressors such as antimicrobials and pollutants; and the identification and development of novel bioactives.
This project has three linked benefits to Australia. One, it is the first study to use environmental genomics analysis in an Australian marine ecosystem, thus bringing into the Australian scientific community the cutting edge technology for studying diverse microbial communities. Two, by using this technology we will be able to investigate Australian marine biodiversity to an unprecedented extent. Three, this newly revealed diversity will then be mined for novel bioactives for use in pharmaceutical and other human health applications.
Image: PhD student Shaun Nielsen…
The AEBC is based at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and is jointly run by the Nanyang and Environmental Water Research Institute (NEWRI) at NTU and CMB at UNSW. The AEBC focuses on using the biology of engineered systems to address pressing global problems such as the increased demand on fresh water and other natural resources, ecosystem stresses, the need to improve water and waste management, and the health of coastal marine systems.
Current projects involve bioprocessing, biofilm biology, and coral reef ecology and microbiology. Students and personnel from CMB and…
This could lead to the development of strategies that control bacterial biofilms, a significant medical and industrial concern.
Image: micrographs of the ciliate Tetrahymena pyriformis in phase contrast and stained with dapi. You can see Vibrio cholerae inside the food vacuoles. (Martina Erken)
The Biofilm Applications Project aims at providing novel, specific solutions to biofilm issues based on fundamental knowledge of biofilm biology.
In 2005, the small signaling molecule nitric oxide (N-O) was discovered to play a role in the regulation of biofilm dispersal. Exposure to low, non-toxic concentrations of NO were found to change gene expression and induce the transition from a biofilm to a planktonic mode of growth in many species. Thus the use of NO, either via chemical compounds releasing NO in solution or via coatings that can be applied on surfaces and generate NO,…