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DOE Experiments with Synthetic Biofilms

Bacteria play a role in many industrial processes from fermentation to cleaning up environmental pollution. But floating freely in solution, the microbial cells constantly multiply, generating biomass that must be periodically removed.

Scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory and Stony Brook University have devised a way to encapsulate bacteria in a synthetic polymer hydrogel that could solve the problem.

These new, stable, bio-hybrid materials maintain the microbes’ ability to exchange nutrients and metabolic products with their environment, and could find widespread applications as biosensors, catalysts, drug-delivery systems, or in wastewater treatment systems.

'Our goal is to develop synthetic biofilms in the form of bioactive materials that could be produced reliably on an industrial scale, and used or reused continuously. The generation of a very thin polymeric fibrous material in which microbes maintain their ability to function represents a significant step toward achieving that goal,' said Dev Chidambaram, Brookhaven Lab materials scientist.

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