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Active Biofouling Control System

A) Duke University is seeking a company interested in commercializing a novel and versatile method of controlling the growth of biofouling. Surface biofouling, the unwanted accumulation of unwanted material, biomolecules, cells (including microbes) and attaching organisms (referred to as a biofilm) upon submersed surfaces, is a devastating problem in many industrial, military and medical applications. Examples include marine and industrial operations such as separations, transport, cooling, and implanted biomaterials. In general, biological organisms that live in marine environments have naturally solved the problem of fouling of their own surface by a number of strategies. However, biofouling (in which fouling species include biological molecules or organisms) has persisted as a significant and fundamental problem that hinders humankind’s ability to interface with and manipulate biological systems. Previous methods to control biofouling have relied on: (i) coating materials that exude biocidal compounds; (ii) coating materials that exhibit contact biocidal or bio-inhibitory activity, (iii) coating materials that resist the short term accumulation of biofouling, (iv) coating materials from which accumulated biofouling is easily removed under shear. The first method is perhaps the most effective in providing long-term resistance to biofouling, but can have deleterious consequences by resulting in unwanted damage to the biological system (e.g., marine environment or biological tissue) with which the synthetic system is interfaced. The second, third and fourth methods have thus far achieved only limited, short term effectiveness.
B) Duke University is seeking a company interested in commercializing a novel and versatile method of controlling biofouling contamination. A frequent complication that plagues the efficacy of medical therapies that rely on the implantation of synthetic materials into the human body is the tendency for their surfaces to be colonized by pathogenic bacteria. These bacteria once colonized on surfaces tend to rapidly form complex biofilms (elaborate cellular communities that are encapsulated along the surface of the implant by cross-linked extracellular polymeric exudates), which provide the pathogenic organism with several mechanisms by which they can develop both short term and long term resistance to antibiotics and other treatments. Ironically, the short term resistance of these complex surface communities has contributed, in part, to adaptation in response to the over prescription of antibiotics and to the evolution of pathogenic bacteria into true antibiotic-resistant strains. A related problem and contributing factor to the problem of infectious biofilms is the need to control colonization of surfaces by bacteria (biofouling) in clinical and hospital environments. So-called nosocomial infections, which are increasingly due to highly virulent agents because of the adaptations mentioned above, are often devastating because of the reduced immuno-resistance of hospitalized patients. Related problems include the need to control the formation of infectious biofilms on surfaces of devices used in biotechnology (e.g., fermenters, tissue culture bioreactors).

The fundamental problem of the tendency for biofouling of implants and medical instruments has long been evident, and significant effort over the past few decades has been expended on developing surface coatings and treatments (e.g., fouling resistant surfaces, biocidal surfaces) that reduce the formation of biofilms. These methods invariably have only limited short-term success, typically due to the complexity (cellular and macromolecular composition, reactivity) of the milieu that the surface of interest encounters. There thus remains a dire need for new methods for controlling the adhesion of infectious bacteria and the formation of infectious biofilms on surfaces of medical and biotechnological interest.

Duke File (IDF) Number



  • Zhao, Xuanhe
  • Lopez, Gabriel
  • Shivapooja, Phanindhar
  • Wang, Qiming

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Pratt School of Engineering