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Environmental Microbiology

Environmental microbiology is a diverse discipline that ranges from the study of pathogens in drinking water to the critical relationship between microbes and geochemistry.  Microbes are intimately involved in the transport, transformation and cycling of many different elements and chemical compounds, including pollutants.  Learning and understanding these processes can allow us to use microbes, for example, to clean up environmental hazards such as oil spills and to create new products through biotechnology. The discipline of environmental microbiology encompasses some of the most fundamental principles of hygiene and sanitation to our use of the most advanced molecular tools to identify unknown organisms in our environment.

The environmental microbiology research programs at MSU provide world-class training opportunities for graduate students interested in solving future problems.


Contact Us

Montana State University

Division of Graduate Education

Molecular Biosciences Program

P.O. Box 172580
Bozeman, MT 59717-2580

(406) 994-6652


Molecular BIOSciences |> Environmental Microbiology
|> Faculty |> Philip S. Stewart, Ph. D

Control of Microbial Biofilms

Current Research

Dr. Stewart’s research focuses on the control of detrimental microbial biofilms. Biofilms are slimy, multicellular aggregates of bacteria or yeast that form on wetted surfaces. The persistent infections associated with catheters, heart valves, periodontitis (gum disease) and burn wounds are examples of biofilms that affect human health. When microorganisms group together in biofilms they evade killing by antimicrobial agents (disinfectants, antibiotics) that easily kill their free-floating counterparts. Dr. Stewart is interested in the mechanisms that protect microbes in biofilms. These include poor penetration of antimicrobial agents, variation in the physiological activity of microorganisms with biofilms, phenotypic variation, and the activation of stress responses. Dr. Stewart has also investigated alternative strategies for controlling biofilms including anti-biofilm coatings, chemical or enzymatic degradation of the matrix holding the biofilm together, and disruption of cell-to-cell communication.

Recent Publications

Secor, P. R, James, G. A., Fleckman, P., Olerud, J. E., McInnerney, K., and P. S. Stewart. (2011) Staphylococcus aureus biofilm and planktonic cultures differentially impact gene expression, MAPK phosphorylation, and cytokine production in human keratinocytes. BMC Microbiol 11:143.

Stewart, P. S., and M. J. Franklin. (2008) Physiological heterogeneity in biofilms. Nat Rev Microbiol 6:199-210.

Takenaka, S., Trivedi, H. M., Corbin, A., Pitts, B., and P. S. Stewart. (2008) Direct visualization of spatial and temporal patterns of antimicrobial action within model oral biofilms. Appl Environ Microbiol 74:1869-1875.

James, G. A, Swogger, E., Wolcott, R., Pulcini, E. D., Secor, P., Sestrich, J., Costerton, J. W., and P. S. Stewart. (2008) Biofilms in chronic wounds. Wound Rep Regen 16:37-44.

Rani, S. A., Pitts, B., Beyenal, H., Veluchamy, R. A., Lewandowski, Z., Davison, W. M., Buckingham-Meyer, K., and P. S. Stewart. (2007) Spatial patterns of DNA replication, protein synthesis, and oxygen concentration within bacterial biofilms reveal diverse physiological states. J Bacteriol 189:4223-4233.

Mah, T.-F., Pitts, B., Pellock, B., Walker, G. C., Stewart, P. S., and G. A. O’Toole. (2003) A genetic basis for Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm antibiotic resistance. Nature 426:306-310.

Stewart, P. S., and J. W. Costerton. (2001) Antibiotic resistance of bacteria in biofilms. Lancet 358:135-138.

Costerton, J. W., Stewart, P. S., and E. P. Greenberg. (1999) Bacterial biofilms: A common cause of persistent infections. Science 284:1318-1322.

Philip S. Stewart, Ph. D

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Updated: 8/16/08


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