Human skin is colonized by bacteria. The development of new genomic microbiological techniques has revealed that the bacterial ecology of human skin is far more complex than previously imagined and includes many fastidious or noncultivable bacterial species which are found on both normal and diseased skin. In nature, the predominant bacterial phenotype on epithelial surfaces is that of organisms organized within a biofilm. This contrasts with the widely held belief that bacteria are planktonic, i.e. free-floating single cells. Biofilms are sessile bacterial communities encased in an extracellular matrix that have a well-developed communication system and can regulate bacterial growth and metabolism, confer resistance to antimicrobials and to host inflammatory cells, and alter host metabolism. Biofilms have been observed on healthy skin and in a number of dermatological conditions, including some that were previously thought not to have an infectious aetiology. Here we review the concept of biofilms and their role in cutaneous health and disease.
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