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Nano-Engineered Surface Guards Against Biofouling

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.

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