Liraz Chai
Associate Professor Liraz Chai

Biofilms are multicellular microbial communities that encase themselves in a secreted network of biopolymers and attach to surfaces and interfaces. From a soft matter perspective, biofilms are regarded as colloidal hydrogels, with the cells playing the role of colloids and the extracellular matrix (ECM) compared with a cross-linked hydrogel. However, from a biological perspective, biofilms are heterogeneous communities that organize in space and time into functionally distinct subgroups, in a process resembling differentiation in higher organisms. Biofilm heterogeneity has been demonstrated at the cellular level, but the molecular level has been neglected. In this talk I discuss the soft matter and biological perspectives of biofilms, focusing on the properties of water, ECM, and metal ions. Using simultaneous X-ray diffraction/fluorescence (XRD/XRF), we portrayed the dominant structural features in Bacillus subtilis biofilms and mapped them in space and time. Particularly, we revealed molecular-level structural hierarchy in the biofilms, that followed biofilm macroscopic morphology. Mapping the XRD and XRF signatures of intact biofilms in space and time allowed us to suggest an inclusive view of biofilm development, linking the ECM and the spores via the transport of water and metal ions. Our findings demonstrate that biofilm heterogeneity is not only affected by local genetic expression and cellular differentiation but also by passive effects resulting from the physicochemical properties of the molecules secreted by the cells. This study unravels the importance of molecular-level heterogeneity in shaping biofilm physiology and development.

Dr Liraz Chai is Associate Professor at the School of Chemistry in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry and completed both her MSc and PhD degrees in Chemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Her Doctoral candidature, under the supervision of Prof. Jacob Klein, focused on the intermolecular interactions between polymers- and charge- bearing surfaces. For her postdoctoral studies Dr Chai switched gears to microbiology at Harvard University with Prof. Roberto Kolter, where she bacame familiarized with bacterial biofilms. Her current research combines Biochemistry, Soft Matter, Biophysics and Microbiology - all applied to interdisciplinary research of bacterial biofilms. Her major interest in biofilms include the properties and assembly of extracellular matrix biopolymers, as well extracellular matrix - associated biomineralization processes. 

About Seminar series

The School of Dentistry Seminar Series is an opportunity to highlight outstanding research both within the School and from national and international guest speakers.

All are welcome to attend, including academic and professional staff, visitors, students, industry partners, dental industry professionals and the general public. Seminars are held at various times at the Oral Health Centre, Herston, and online.

In addition to our general School series, additional seminars will be presented by our various research groups.


Oral Health Centre Auditorium and online via Zoom at