Having found that whether bacteria stick to surfaces depends partly on how stiff those surfaces are, MIT engineers have created ultrathin films made of polymers that could be applied to medical devices and other surfaces to control microbe accumulation.
The inexpensive, easy-to-produce films could provide a valuable layer of protection for the health care industry by helping to reduce the spread of hospital-acquired infections, which take the lives of 100,000 people and cost the United States an estimated $4.5 billion annually.
The researchers, who describe their work in an upcoming issue of the journal Biomacromolecules, found they could control the extent of bacterial adhesion to surfaces by manipulating the mechanical stiffness of polymer films called polyelectrolyte multilayers. Thus, the films could be designed to prevent accumulation of hazardous bacteria or promote growth of desirable bacteria.
“All other factors being equal, mechanical stiffness of material surfaces increases bacterial adhesion,” said Krystyn Van Vliet, the Thomas Lord Assistant Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and the paper's anchor author.
Van Vliet and her colleagues found the same trend in experiments with three strains of bacteria: Staphylococcus epidermidis, commonly found on skin, and two types of Escherichia coli.
Stiffness has usually been overlooked in studies of how bacteria adhere to surfaces in favor of other traits such as surface charge, roughness, and attraction to or repulsion from water. The new work shows that stiffness should also be taken into account, said Van Vliet.
The new films could be combined with current methods of repelling bacteria to boost their effectiveness, said Michael Rubner, an author of the paper and director of MIT's Center for Materials Science and Engineering.
Those methods include coating surfaces with antimicrobial chemicals or embedding metal nanoparticles into the surface, which disrupt the bacterial cell walls.
“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 researchers are now working on figuring out this mechanism.
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation Young Investigator Program.
Maricela Delgadillo, a senior in materials science and engineering, and Takehiro Nishikawa, a former postdoctoral researcher at MIT, now at the Advanced Medical Engineering Center in Osaka, Japan, are also authors of the paper.
Written by Anne Trafton, MIT News Office
Elizabeth A. Thomson | MIT News Office
Historical rainfall levels are significant in carbon emissions from soil
30.05.2017 | University of Texas at Austin
3D printer inks from the woods
30.05.2017 | Empa - Eidgenössische Materialprüfungs- und Forschungsanstalt
Scientists have developed a new method of characterizing graphene’s properties without applying disruptive electrical contacts, allowing them to investigate both the resistance and quantum capacitance of graphene and other two-dimensional materials. Researchers from the Swiss Nanoscience Institute and the University of Basel’s Department of Physics reported their findings in the journal Physical Review Applied.
Graphene consists of a single layer of carbon atoms. It is transparent, harder than diamond and stronger than steel, yet flexible, and a significantly better...
The world's highest gain high power laser amplifier - by many orders of magnitude - has been developed in research led at the University of Strathclyde.
The researchers demonstrated the feasibility of using plasma to amplify short laser pulses of picojoule-level energy up to 100 millijoules, which is a 'gain'...
Staphylococcus aureus is a feared pathogen (MRSA, multi-resistant S. aureus) due to frequent resistances against many antibiotics, especially in hospital infections. Researchers at the Paul-Ehrlich-Institut have identified immunological processes that prevent a successful immune response directed against the pathogenic agent. The delivery of bacterial proteins with RNA adjuvant or messenger RNA (mRNA) into immune cells allows the re-direction of the immune response towards an active defense against S. aureus. This could be of significant importance for the development of an effective vaccine. PLOS Pathogens has published these research results online on 25 May 2017.
Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) is a bacterium that colonizes by far more than half of the skin and the mucosa of adults, usually without causing infections....
Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.
The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....
An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.
We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...
24.05.2017 | Event News
23.05.2017 | Event News
22.05.2017 | Event News
30.05.2017 | Life Sciences
30.05.2017 | Life Sciences
30.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy