Getting rid of the slime

Moist, man-made environments such as cooling towers, whirlpools and showers provide ideal places for contaminating biofilms of Legionella and other species. Aerosolization of bacteria from these biofilms can result in a pneumonia like infection called Legionnaire's Disease. Removal and prevention of such biofilms is difficult due to resistance to disinfectants and biocides as well as the limited use of such agents as regulated by the EPA and other agencies.

Our lab in collaboration with scientists from the Clemson University Department of Chemical Engineering and the Institute for Environmental Toxicology is investigating and developing applications using nanotechnology to remove and inactivate Legionella biofilms in man-made systems. This research is also providing insight in the role of biofilms as sites of bioaccumulation of environmental contaminants.

Through our study of the interactions of nanomaterials with microbial communities, we've observed a nanoparticle induced detachment of biofilms that may be a novel technology for use in cooling towers and water systems. By understanding the effects nanomaterials have on biofilm communities we can optimize nanomaterials to use in eradication of biofilms.

The basic research knowledge gained through studies in this area also supports our other two research areas in understanding bacterial and community response to nanomaterial contaminants. In our publication in Nanotoxicology we show how exposure of Legionella pneumophila biofilms to gold nanoparticles alters the morphology and leads to biofilm disruption. In a new study coming out soon, we compare the effect of several types of nanoparticles on biofilm disruption. These studies tell us about nanoparticle interaction with microbial biofilms as well as help us understand basic biofilm mechanics and cycles.