Biofilms – characterization and avoidance

Mircoorganisms on surfaces occur widely in nature. Bacteria, fungi and algae have adapted to growth on various surfaces and benefit considerably from this way of life, which is adapted to each particular location, for example on stones in a stream, and also in various kinds of piping. Their growth becomes visible to the human eye when biofilms develop excessively. Frequently the microbial growth causes damage to the material or impairs the functioning of technical equipment.

At Fraunhofer IGB, we have been working for several years on questions in which the interactions between microbial cells and surfaces or the formation of biofilms play a role. On the one hand, we use biofilms, for example by targeted immobilization of microorganisms on a carrier material, for the production of valuable substances or for waste water purification.

We also support the prevention and control of biofilms – where they are undesirable and cause damage – through our research. For example, we have developed test methods for the investigation of biofilms and are investigating surfaces and components in medical technology, construction, wastewater treatment and hygiene for microbiological contamination.

Examples of damage caused by biofilms are the deterioration of the efficiency of heat exchangers or air-conditioning systems. In the healthcare sector too, enormous efforts are being made to prevent the growth of biofilms on natural surfaces such as dental material as well as synthetic materials such as implants, catheters or medical devices – also because of enormous consequential costs in the event of human injury.

more info: practical test method for biofilms

Avoidance of biofilms – through antimicrobial surface modification

In order to avoid the initial formation of biofilms, the use of suitable antimicrobial surface modifications, for example by means of the bonding of biocidal substances or photocatalytic finishes, is therefore indicated. An appropriate surface finish can prevent the microbial adhesion on the surface of the materialor the reproduction of the cels from the outset.

At Fraunhofer IGB interfacial engineers – in cooperation with microbiologists and cell biologists – have already developed various surface finishes. They can be characterized with the assistance of physical and chemical mothods, however their biological efficacy can only be demonstrated using living systems.

Reference projects

FoAM-BUILD – Functional Adaptive Nano-Materials and Technologies for Energy Efficient Buildings

The FoAM-BUILD project will develop a next generation External Thermal Insulation Composite System (ETICS). A new, lightweight and high insulating nano-cellular foam including a non-halogenated nano-based flame retardant will be developed. Also a moisture control system, based on a sensor network which measures moisture and liquid water on the façade will be developed to prevent microbiological growth on the façade.

Duration: September 2013 – August 2017

OSIRYS – Forest based composites for façades and interior partitions to improve indoor air quality in new builds and restoration

Indoor air pollutants are a burden on well-being and health. For this reason, Fraunhofer IGB is developing a photocatalytically active interior paint within the framework of the joint project OSIRYS. This can degrade pollutants by forming active oxygen species that chemically attack organic compounds when exposed to light.

 

Duration: June 2013 – May 2017

 

BIOCLEAN –

BIOfilm management and CLEANing by leveraging fundamental understanding of biological, chemical and physical combined approaches

 

BIOCLEAN addresses the urgent need to create a sustainable training network across academia, industry and the healthcare sector which will fill the gap in Europe and beyond to produce highly skilled multi‑disciplinary young scientists competent in chemistry, engineering and experimental wet lab biology.

 

Duration: October 2016September 2020