Microbes colonize every natural or artificial surface on Earth. In some cases, these microbial communities (known as “biofilms”) can be benign. However, most biofilms are undesirable: they corrode surfaces (from teeth to oil pipes), and serve as a refuge for pathogens. Learning to prevent or disrupt biofilms, and thus minimize their undesirable impacts, remains one of the goals of industrial microbiology.
NIFA-funded researchers at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UH) and their colleagues are a step closer to reaching this goal. They learned that nano-engineered aluminum discourages microbes (including pathogens) from settling on surfaces and biofouling them. To build such a “nano-patterned” surface, the scientists first treated aluminum with oxalic acid to create nanopillars or nanopores, then etched them with phosphoric acid, and coated the structure with a nano-thick layer of Teflon. The scientists were also able to impregnate oils into the nanopores to make surfaces slippery. These self-cleanable nano-features were effective in dissuading microbes from settling in. This reduced microbial settlement by up to 99 percent.
NIFA supports this research through the Agriculture and Food and Research Initiative.