J. William (Bill) Costerton Microbiology and Immunology

Pioneered biofilm microbiology

The Story

Costerton became an expert in microbiology and electron microscopy after receiving degrees from UBC (BA, 1955; MA, 1956) and UWO (PhD, 1960). In 1978, when he was a University of Calgary postdoctoral student Costerton shook up the established science of microbiology with a new view of bacterial life. He and his team worked out a way to see the structure of the slimy substance that seemed to anchor bacteria to surfaces in cattle stomachs. When they took the bacteria into the lab and “purified” them, however, they became just like ordinary bacteria. It became obvious that bacteria do not act the same inside a test-tube as outside it. Natural bacterial colonies were creating their own microhabitat, sticking to surfaces and covering themselves with a slimy layer of protective molecules. Costerton named these molecules biofilms. The researchers found that biofilm bacteria were often team players, different species working in physiological co-operation. Costerton and his team have applied their knowledge to developing new technologies in areas ranging from oil production to bacteria-resistant medical devices. He holds several biological patents and is president of the Microbios company.

Sources: Canadian Who’s Who 1993; NSERC


Career ideas:

  • Microbiologists and cell and molecular biologists research such areas as bacteria, fungi, viruses, tissues, cells, pharmaceuticals, and plant/animal toxins.
  • People in this group work in:
  • Biotechnology, chemical, pharmaceutical, food, health care, resource, environmental, and consulting companies, Government
  • Educational institutions, universities/research institutes, Forestry/agricultural sectors.
  • Learn more at <a href="http://www.jobfutures.ca/noc/212p1.shtml#section1_3">Job Futures Canada</a>.

The Person

August 21, 1934
Vernon, BC
Bozeman, Montana
Microbiologist; Director of the Center for Biofilm Engineering in Montana State University since 1993
Center for Biofilm Engineering , previously National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center and University of Calgary
  • Ph.D. in Bacteriology in 1960 from the University of Western Ontario
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)(1997);
  • Isaak Walton Killam Memorial Prize for Scientific Achievement (1990);
  • Sir Frederick Haultain Prize for outstanding achievement in the physical sciences (1986)
Last Updated
May 15, 2020

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