Slimy, hard-to-clean bacterial mats called biofilms cause problems ranging from medical infections to clogged drains and fouled industrial equipment. Now, National Science Foundation-funded researchers have found a way to cleanly and completely peel off these notorious sludges. By looking at the films from a mechanical engineering perspective, as well as a biological one, the researchers showed that water penetrating the junction between biofilms and surfaces, coupled with gentle peeling, can result in immaculate removals. That outcome contrasts with traditionally ineffective methods of scraping or mechanically dislodging biofilms, which sometimes leave behind still-adhered patches that re-grow and re-contaminate. The new removal method should help in thwarting harmful biofilms, as well as controlling the beneficial biofilms increasingly relied on for wastewater treatment, microbial fuel cells and other applications.
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