Microbial biofilm systems are defined as interface-associated microorganisms embedded into a self-produced matrix. The extracellular matrix represents a continuous challenge in terms of characterization and analysis. The tools applied in more detailed studies comprise extraction/chemical analysis, molecular characterization, and visualisation using various techniques. Imaging by laser microscopy became a standard tool for biofilm analysis, and, in combination with fluorescently labelled lectins, the glycoconjugates of the matrix can be assessed. By employing this approach a wide range of pure culture biofilms from different habitats were examined using the commercially available lectins. From the results, a binary barcode pattern of lectin binding can be generated. Furthermore, the results can be fine-tuned and transferred into a heat map according to signal intensity. The lectin barcode approach is suggested as a useful tool for investigating the biofilm matrix characteristics and dynamics at various levels, e.g. bacterial cell surfaces, adhesive footprints, individual microcolonies, and the gross biofilm or bio-aggregate. Hence fluorescence lectin bar-coding (FLBC) serves as a basis for a subsequent tailor-made fluorescence lectin-binding analysis (FLBA) of a particular biofilm. So far, the lectin approach represents the only tool for in situ characterization of the glycoconjugate makeup in biofilm systems. Furthermore, lectin staining lends itself to other fluorescence techniques in order to correlate it with cellular biofilm constituents in general and glycoconjugate producers in particular.
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