For those bacteria that readily form biofilms, we have no delusions that we can prevent bacterial films from starting to form. However, if we can limit how much growth occurs, these existing methods can become much more effective, Rubner said.
Jenny Lichter, graduate student in materials science and engineering, and Todd Thompson, a graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, are joint lead authors of the paper. They note that the films could also be used on medical devices that go inside the body, such as stents and other cardiac implants.
Once a foreign object enters into the body, if you can limit the number of bacteria going in with it, this may increase the chances that the immune system can defend against that infection, said Thompson.
Another possible application for the films is to promote growth of so-called good bugs by tuning the mechanical stiffness of the material on which these bacteria are cultured. These films could stimulate growth of bacteria needed for scientific study, medical testing, or industrial uses such as making ethanol.
The researchers built their films, which are about 50 nanometers (billionths of a meter) thick, with layers of polyelectrolytes (a class of charged polymer). Alternating layers are added at different pH (acidity) levels, which determines how stiff the material is when hydrated at near-neutral pH, such as water. Polymer films assembled at higher pH (up to 6) are stiffer because the polymer chains crosslink readily and the polymers do not swell too much; those added at lower, more acidic pH (down to 2.5) are more compliant.
Van Vliet says the team's results could be explained by the relationship between surfaces and tiny projections from the bacterial cell walls, known as pili. Stiffer surfaces may reinforce stronger, more stable bonds with the bacterial pili. The researche
|Contact: Elizabeth Thomson|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology