University of Dundee

Professor Nicola Stanley-Wall FRSE FRSB FEAM

Understanding the molecular mechanism of biofilm formation
Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Head of the Division of Molecular Microbiology
School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, Dow Street, Dundee, DD1 5EH
Full Telephone: 
+44 (0) 1382 386335, int ext 86335


The ability of unicellular bacteria to co-ordinate responses and to act as a multicellular population is proposed to provide an advantage to the bacterial population as a whole. A mechanism whereby bacteria can function as a multicellular population is to form a biofilm, a community of bacterial cells that is adherent to a surface, interface or to each other and encased in a self-produced polymeric matrix.

Bacteria living in biofilms have increased resistance to various antimicrobial agents and are better adapted to survive periods of environmental stress. Therefore, biofilms have a significant impact in clinical settings, where they are the causative agent of the majority of chronic infections, and in industrial settings where they cause significant damage due to corrosion and bio fouling. On the other hand microbial biofilms can also result in beneficial processes such as bio-remediation and bio-control that cannot be accomplished by bacteria that are dispersed in the environment. Knowledge of the molecular mechanism of biofilm formation should allow the development of novel treatment strategies for controlling chronic biofilm infections and the development of ecologically friendly pesticides.

Our research interests are centred on using molecular biology and biochemistry to understand how bacterial build multicellular communities called biofilms. In particular we are interested in the way the molecules in the biofilm matrix provide support and protection to biofilms formed by the Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis. We work closely with Prof Cait MacPhee a biophysicist from the University of Edinburgh, and Profs Fordyce Davidson, Michael Ferguson and Jason Swedlow from the University of Dundee.


Level 2:
BS22022 – course contributor and tutorial leader
- Koch’s postulates- historical and current views.
Level 3:
BS32004 – “Molecular Microbiology” – module lead 
- Microbial diversity
- Cell division
- Biofilm formation
- Controlling Sigma Factors
BS32011 – “Microbial Cell Biology” – module contact
- Practical unit using transposon mutagenesis of Bacillus subtilis to learn about genetics, bacterial physiology, and molecular biology.
Level 4:
Honours Year – annual project supervisor from 2005-current
Level 5:
MSci – project supervisor from 2017-current


Sofia Arnaouteli$, Ana Sofia Ferreira$, Marieke Schor$, Ryan J. Morris, Keith M. Bromley, Jeanyoung K. Jo, Krista L. Cortez, Tetyana Sukhodub, Alan R. Prescott, Lars E. P. Dietrich, Cait E. MacPhee ^, Nicola R. Stanley-Wall ^ 2017 “Bifunctionality Of A Biofilm Matrix Protein Controlled By Redox State” Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences USA 114 vol. 30 E6184-E6191 doi:10.1073/pnas.1707687114

$ These authors contributed equally; ^ Joint corresponding author

*Highlighted Nature Reviews Microbiology 15, pp 512–513 (2017) doi:10.1038/nrmicro.2017.91

Bromley, K.M., Morris, R.J., Hobley, L., Brandani, G.B., Gillespie, R.M.C., McCluskey, M., Zachariae, U., Marenduzzo, D., Stanley-Wall, N.R.*, and MacPhee, C.E.* 2015 “Interfacial self-assembly of a bacterial hydrophobin” Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences USA 110(33):13600-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1306390110

*Joint corresponding author

Hobley, L., Kim, S.H., Maezato, Y., Wylie, S., Fairlamb, A.H., Stanley-Wall, N.R.*, and Michael, A.J.* 2014 “Norspermidine is not a self-produced signal to trigger biofilm disassembly” Cell Vol. 156 (4) pp 844-854

* Joint corresponding author. Highlighted by Nature reviews Microbiology

Hobley, L.$, Ostrowski, A.$, Rao, F. $, Bromley, K., Porter, M., Prescott, A., MacPhee, C.E., van Aalten, D.M.F., Stanley-Wall, N.R2013 “A bacterial hydrophobin coats the Bacillus subtilis biofilm” Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences USA vol. 110(33) pp.13600-5 doi:10.1073/pnas.1306390110

$ These authors contributed equally.

*Highlighted by Nature reviews Microbiology and Recommended by F1000.

Cairns, L.S., Marlow, V. L., Bissett, E., Ostrowski, A., and Stanley-Wall, N.R2013 “A mechanical signal transmitted by the flagellum controls signaling in Bacillus subtilis” Molecular Microbiology vol. 90 (1) pp 6-21  doi: 10.1111/mmi.12342

*Subject of a Micro-commentary, Highlighted by Nature reviews Microbiology and Recommended by F1000.

Ostrowski, A., Merhert, A., Prescott, A., Kiley, T.B., and Stanley-Wall, N.R. 2011 “YuaB functions synergistically with the exopolysaccharide and TasA amyloid fibers to allow biofilm formation by Bacillus subtilis.” Journal of Bacteriology vol. 193 pp.4821-31

Verhamme, D.T., Kiley, T.B., and Stanley-Wall, N.R. 2007 “DegU coordinates multicellular behaviour exhibited by Bacillus subtilis” Molecular Microbiology vol. 65(2) pp. 554-568

Stanley, N. R., Britton, R. A., Grossman, A. D., and Lazazzera, B. A. 2003 “Identification of catabolite repression as a physiological repressor of biofilm formation by Bacillus subtilis by use of DNA microarrays” Journal of Bacteriology vol. 185 pp.1951-1957

Stanley, N. R., Findlay, K., Berks, B. C., and Palmer, T. 2001 “Escherichia coli strains blocked in Tat-dependent protein export exhibit pleiotropic defects in the cell envelope” Journal of Bacteriology vol. 183 pp. 139-144

Stanley, N. R., Palmer, T., and Berks, B. C. 2000 “The twin-arginine consensus motif of Tat signal peptides is involved in Sec-independent protein targeting in Escherichia coli” Journal of Biological Chemistry vol. 275 pp. 11591-11596



Our laboratory studies how bacteria form biofilms. We worked with the scientific animation company Vivomotion to make an animation that explains what biofilms are and how they impact our everyday lives.

The Stanley-Wall lab actively engages in outreach activities with both school age children and members of the public. Our work has been nationally by prizes from the Society for General Microbiology (2011) and the Royal Society of Edinburgh (2012).

Nicola Stanley-Wall is academic lead for Public Engagement in the School of Life Sciences. Please feel free to contact us if you would like advice about organising large microbiology outreach events via