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Wednesday, 18 September 2019
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Raw materials & technologies, Applications, Protective & Marine coatings

How can bacteria induce the process of biofouling?

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

A study at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) explains the relationship between bacterial biofilms and the metamorphosis of marine invertebrates.

The study shows how bacteria can induce the process of biofouling

Source: Eric Gevaert -  Fotolia.com

The study shows how bacteria can induce the process of biofouling

Source: Eric Gevaert -  Fotolia.com

The study focused on a marine invertebrate that has become a nuisance to the shipping industry since its arrival in U.S. waters during the last half century: the tubeworm Hydroides elegans.

Larvae come into contact with hulls

The larvae of the invasive pest swim free in the ocean until they come into contact with a biofilm-covered surface, such as a rock or a buoy – or the hull of a ship. After the tubeworm larvae come in contact with the biofilm, they develop into adult worms that anchor to the surface, creating hard, mineralized "tubes” around their bodies. These tubes, which often cover the bottoms of ships, create extra drag in the water, dramatically increasing the ship's fuel consumption.

The researchers showed that a marine bacterium, Pseudoalteromonas luteoviolacea, produces arrays of phage tail-like structures that trigger metamorphosis of H. elegans. These arrays comprise about 100 contractile structures with outward-facing baseplates, linked by tail fibers and a dynamic hexagonal net. Not only do these arrays suggest a novel form of bacterium-animal interaction, they provide an entry point to understanding how marine biofilms can trigger animal development.

Biofouling costs millions of dollars in excess fuel costs

The tubeworms' unwanted and destructive presence on ships, called biofouling, is a "really bad problem”, says Dianne Newman, a professor of biology and geobiology and investigator at Caltech. "For example, biofouling costs the U.S. Navy millions of dollars every year in excess fuel costs”, says Newman, who is also a coauthor of the study. And although researchers have known for decades that biofilms are necessary for tubeworm development, says Nicholas Shikuma, one of the two first authors on the study, "there was no mechanistic explanation for how bacteria can actually induce that process to happen. We wanted to provide that explanation.”

The results of the study were published online in the January issue of Science Express.

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