A team of chemical engineers at Penn State has developed a beneficial biofilm with the ability to prevent the biofouling of reverse osmosis (RO) membranes.
The biofilm allows membranes to limit their own thickness via a quorum-sensing circuit, and ultimately to reduce the occurrence of biofouling in membrane-based water treatment systems by releasing chemicals that repel undesirable bacteria.
“We realized that the accumulation of microbial films in water treatment membranes is unavoidable,” said Manish Kumar, assistant professor of chemical engineering and the principal investigator on the project. “But just like good bacteria exists in your gut to keep you healthy, we predicted that helpful bacteria in RO may be able to prevent the unchecked reproduction of harmful biofilms. Essentially, our method is a ‘probiotic-approach’ to combat biofouling.”
With the demand for access to safe and clean water escalating globally, membrane filtration technologies are quickly becoming popular ways to utilize low quality and readily abundant water sources such as seawater, brackish water and recycled wastewater.
Complications with these systems arise frequently, however, most often in the form of biofouling—a buildup of microbes and bacteria on membrane surfaces that causes clogging and leads to decreased membrane permeability and an overall increase in energy consumption.
To find a solution to the problem, Kumar teamed with collaborators and co-investigators Thomas Wood, Endowed Biotechnology Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering, and Tammy Wood, research associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering, to study membrane-biofilm interactions and their biochemical attributes.
Offers significant anti-adhesive potential for a variety of medical and industrial applications
Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have developed an innovative anti-biofilm coating, which has significant anti-adhesive potential for a variety of medical and industrial applications.
According to the research published in Advanced Materials Interfaces, anti-adhesive patches that are developed from naturally occurring biomaterials can prevent destructive bacterial biofilm from forming on metal surfaces when they are immersed in water and other damp environments.
“Our solution addresses a pervasive need to design environmentally friendly materials to impede dangerous surface bacteria growth,” the BGU researchers from the Avram and Stella Goldstein-Goren Department of Biotechnology Engineering explain. “This holds tremendous potential for averting biofilm formed by surface-anchored bacteria and could have a tremendous impact.”
The anti-adhesive could be used on medical implants, devices and surgical equipment where bacteria can contribute to chronic diseases, resist antibiotic treatment and thereby compromise the body’s defense system. The prevention of aquatic biofouling on ships and bridges is one of the industrial applications.