- Ista, L. K. and Perez-Luna, V. H. and Lopez, G. P., Surface-grafted, environmentally sensitive polymers for biofilm release,
APPLIED AND ENVIRONMENTAL MICROBIOLOGY, vol. 65 no. 4
pp. 1603--1609 .
(last updated on 2010/02/08)
Controlling bacterial biofouling is desirable for almost every human enterprise in which solid surfaces are introduced into nonsterile aqueous environments. One approach that is used to decrease contamination of manufactured devices by microorganisms is using materials that easily slough off accumulated material (i.e., fouling release surfaces). The compounds currently used for this purpose rely on low surface energy to inhibit strong attachment of organisms. In this study, we examined the possible use of environmentally responsive (or ``smart'') polymers as a new class of fouling release agents; a surface-grafted thermally responsive polymer, poly(N-isopropylacrylamide) (PNIPAAM), was used as a model compound. PNIPAAM is known to have a lower critical solubility temperature of similar to 32 degrees C (i.e., it is insoluble in water at temperatures above 32 degrees C acid is soluble at temperatures below 32 degrees C), Under experimental conditions, >90\% of cultured microorganisms (Staphylococcus epidermidis, Halomonas marina) and naturally occurring marine microorganisms that attached to grafted PNIPAAM surfaces during 2-, 18-, 36-, and 72-h incubations were removed when the hydration stale of the polymer was changed from a wettability that was favorable for attachment to a wettability that was less favorable, Of particular significance is the observation that an organism known to attach in the greatest numbers to hydrophobic substrata (i.e., H. marina) was removed when transition of PNIPAAM to a more hydrated state occurred, whereas an organism that attaches in the greatest numbers to hydrophilic substrata (i.e., S. epidermidis) was removed when the opposite transition occurred. Neither solvated nor desolvated PNIPAAM exhibited intrinsic fouling release properties, indicating that the phase transition was the important factor in removal of organisms. Based on our observations of the behavior of this model system, we suggest that environmentally responsive polymers represent a new approach for controlling biofouling release.