In a series of experiments, Yan-Yeung Luk, assistant professor of chemistry in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Dacheng Ren, assistant professor of biomedical engineering in SU’s L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science, created a surface material on which they could manipulate and confine biofilm growth four times longer than current technologies. By further manipulating the chemical makeup of the surface, the scientists uncovered how mammalian cells and bacteria adhere to surfaces.
Their work, which is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, was reported in the Feb. 4 online version of “ChemComm,” the journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry (forthcoming in print) and in the Jan. 9 online version of “Langmuir,” published by the American Chemical Society (forthcoming in print).
Under moist conditions, bacteria form what scientists call biofilms-a sticky, slimy buildup on almost any kind of surface. Biofilms can corrode the hulls of ships, produce green slime on rocks, pollute drinking water systems, form plaque on teeth and stick to medical devices implanted in humans, resulting in infection or rejection.
It’s critically important, therefore, for scientists to gain a better understanding of how biofilms are formed and use that knowledge to develop surfaces that will resist such biofouling. In an unusual, interdisciplinary collaboration, SU researchers have found that if you can prevent protein from sticking to a surface, you can prevent both bacteria and mammalian cells from doing likewise. In the process, they developed a novel surface technology that scientists can use to study biofilms in ways that were not previously possible.