Some kinds of bacteria have been known to congregate into ‘biofilms’. Normally, free swimming bacteria which are susceptible to antibiotics and other treatments become remarkably resilient. They stick to surfaces with remarkable tenacity and are exceedingly difficult to kill. In addition, they sometimes produce toxins not made by their planktonic kin.
For the first time, researchers at the Institut Pasteur and CNRS have shown that the human T-lymphotropic virus type 1 (HTLV-1) retrovirus is capable of forming complex biofilm-like structures on the surface of infected cells.
The viral biofilms appear to serve the same function as their bacterial counterparts, namely to offer increased infectivity and protection from the immune system. Removing the viral biofilm from infected cell surfaces reduced infection rates by up to 80%.Although it is not yet known whether other types of viruses can form these aggregates, scientists are hopeful that this new data will open up new anti-viral treatments that target biofilms.