Microbial biofilms can be both cause and cure to a range of emerging societal problems including antimicrobial tolerance, water sanitation, water scarcity and pollution. The identities of extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) responsible for the establishment and function of biofilms are poorly understood. The lack of information on the chemical and physical identities of EPS limits the potential to rationally engineer biofilm processes, and impedes progress within the water and wastewater sector towards a circular economy and resource recovery. Here, a multidisciplinary roadmap for addressing this EPS identity crisis is proposed. This involves improved EPS extraction and characterization methodologies, cross-referencing between model biofilms and full-scale biofilm systems, and functional description of isolated EPS with in situ techniques (e.g. microscopy) coupled with genomics, proteomics and glycomics. The current extraction and spectrophotometric characterization methods, often based on the principle not to compromise the integrity of the microbial cells, should be critically assessed, and more comprehensive methods for recovery and characterization of EPS need to be developed.
- Extracellular polymeric substances