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Bacterial-resistant Surfaces

Sand biofilm!

Image courtesy of the Lewis Lab at Northeastern University. Image created by Anthony D'Onofrio, William H. Fowle, Eric J. Stewart and Kim Lewis.

Biofilms -- tapestries of microbes such as bacteria or fungi growing attached to a solid substrate -- cause loads of problems for health care providers. According to the National Institutes of Health, biofilm formation accounts for 65 percent of all human microbial infections [source: Ames]. You might think that fastidious cleaning is the answer to the problem, but biofilms stubbornly resist scrubbing. They also tend to shrug off the effects of antibiotics. The better solution involves preventing bacteria from attaching to a substrate in the first place. Hello, frictionless surface!

A biofilm begins its life when a few carefree microorganisms cruise by a countertop or surgical instrument and stick, either by way of gluey adhesion molecules or structures known as pili. Once attached, this small group of cells secretes an extracellular polymeric substance, or EPS, which acts like cement to hold the cells -- and their progeny -- permanently in place. But if you can interrupt the attachment process, you can stop the biofilm from forming.

That's exactly what a team of scientists from the University of Nottingham in the U.K. have done. By coating laboratory surfaces and medical devices such as catheters with an acrylate polymer similar to those used in the plastics industry, the researchers were able to prevent bacteria trailblazers from getting a toehold. The result: They found a 97 percent reduction in coverage of the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium [source: Ames].

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