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Harvard scientists develop technology to prevent biofilm growth

August 09, 2012
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A team of Harvard scientists has developed a novel way to prevent biofilms from ever forming on food processing machinery and other surfaces.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), lead coauthors Joanna Aizenberg, Alexander Epstein and Tak-Sing Wong coated solid surfaces with an immobilized liquid film to trick the bacteria into thinking they had nowhere to attach and grow.

The researchers used their recently developed technology, dubbed SLIPS (Slippery-Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces), to effectively create a hybrid surface that is smooth and slippery due to the liquid layer that is immobilized on it.

“By creating a liquid-infused structured surface, we deprive bacteria of the static interface they need to get a grip and grow together into biofilms,” says Epstein, a recent Ph.D. graduate who worked in Aizenberg’s lab at the time of the study.

“In essence, we turned a once bacteria-friendly solid surface into a liquid one. As a result, biofilms cannot cling to the material, and even if they do form, they easily ‘slip’ off under mild flow conditions,” adds Wong, a researcher at SEAS and a Croucher Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the Wyss Institute.

Aizenberg and her collaborators reported that SLIPS reduced by 96 to 99 percent the formation of three of the most notorious, disease-causing biofilms — Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus — over a seven-day period.

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