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A pesky bacterial slime reveals its survival secrets
Date:1/7/2011

ngineering at Harvard.

As the Aizenberg lab studies materials and wetting, the engineers immediately recognized the significance of what they were observing. It turns out that biofilm has an unprecedented liquid-repellent surface, thereby revealing a critical clue to what may be responsible for its broad antimicrobial resistance.

Nature offers numerous examples of water-resistant surfaces, such as the lotus leaf, a longstanding inspiration for creating synthetic materials. Until now, however, no model natural systems have been found for broadly repellent materials.

While such surfaces can be manufactured, the top-down process is costly, labor intensive, and reliant on toxic chemicals and brittle structures. A biofilm, however, is living proof that only the simplest and most natural of components are requirednamely, a resilient meshwork made from proteins and polysaccharides assembled into a multi-scale, hierarchical structure.

At the same time, the finding offers a completely new perspective on how biofilms are immune to so many different types of biocides. Even the most sophisticated biochemical strategy will be ineffective if a biocide cannot enter the slime to reach the bacteria. In short, the antimicrobial activity of alcohols and other solvents becomes compromised by the strongly non-wetting behavior at clinically relevant concentrations.

The team expects that their newfound knowledge will help alert researchers to the need to consider this requirement when designing ways to destroy harmful biofilms.

"Their notorious resistance to a broad range of biocide chemistries has remained a mysterious and pressing problem despite two decades of biofilm research," says Aizenberg, a pioneer in the field of biomimicry. "By looking at it as a macroscopic problem, we found an explanation that was just slightly out of view: antimicrobials can be ineffective simply by being a non-wetting liquid that cannot penetrate into th
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Contact: Michael Patrick Rutter
mrutter@seas.harvard.edu
617-496-3815
Harvard University
Source:Eurekalert  

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