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Marine Sciences Division

Applied Biofouling

Biofouling and Antifouling

Biofouling and Antifouling

Left: Coupon showing stained (purple) and unstained fouling. Right: Copper sheet showing corrosion and stained fouling (left of the blue arrow)

Biofouling, the undesired growth and accumulation of organisms on surfaces exposed to fluids, is a costly problem for many industries—from barnacles on ship hulls to bacterial slime on kitchen surfaces. It is the predominant cause of transport of aquatic invasive species. A mere 1/20 mm thick film can increase drag on ship hulls by over 20%. A ¼ mm thick buildup of biofilm can cut the efficiency of cooling systems and heat exchangers used in power plants, refrigerators, air conditioners, or large ships by 50%. Biofilms are responsible for over 80% of all infections, and are a major source of contamination in the food and beverage industry.

Scientists at MSL are addressing these challenges through basic research into how different organisms interact with various surface types, and are using that information to develop new antifouling coatings and cleaning processes. Additionally, our scientists are revolutionizing the way that biofilms and biofouling are detected, monitored, and measured by developing a suite of new tools and methods for analysis. These approaches include the world's first truly quantitative methods to measure the amount and rate of fouling buildup and novel nondestructive approaches for monitoring biofilm growth. Research utilizes MSL's facilities for molecular biology, pathogen and invasive species containment and research, imaging, engineering, fluid dynamic modeling, and controlled laboratory or open water testing. The team works closely with collaborators from many disciplines at PNNL's campus in Richland, Washington and with other national labs, academia, government, and industry. Expertise spans marine science, environmental microbiology, geomicrobiology, biocorrosion, molecular microbiology, and pathogenesis.

We provide multidisciplinary expertise and practical experience operating vessels and water systems, building and fielding sensors, and processing samples from many aquatic environments. Our research and expertise is applied to develop solutions that improve performance, extend system lifespan, save power, provide a desired profile, and reduce total ownership costs for our sponsors. Representative programs include work to protect underwater sensors; coatings to reduce O&M costs for offshore wind, water, and tidal power systems; assessing performance and protecting adsorbents and filters; enhancing personal protective equipment to reduce disease transmission; and specialized coatings and cleaning strategies for high value assets.

Performance Testing

Performance Testing

PNNL has research facilities located on major freshwater (Columbia River) and saltwater (Sequim Bay/Strait of Juan de Fuca) systems. Our facilities also have immediate access to other environments, including estuarine, septic, sewer, and freshwater pond. Extensive wet lab space at the Sequim, WA and Richland, WA campuses allows for controlled environments, the ability to simulate virtually any environmental condition, and the ability to accelerate fouling conditions. PNNL's animal and biosafety level 2 research labs are employed for research with medical and industrial biofilms.

Our research team brings together scientists, engineers, environmental modelers, and statisticians to identify parameters, design tests, run analyses, and apply the data to identify possible solutions. Our extensive collaborations with other national labs, industry, universities, and state and local government create an even wider range of test locations and possibilities.

Working with experts in statistical analysis and operations research modeling, the team identifies points of weakness or failure in systems and operations. By integrating client knowledge with our subject matter expertise in marine environments, fouling, and materials, we can provide a thorough multi-parameter analysis of how to improve and extend performance relative to fixed and operational costs. Our analysis will identify where to employ different antifouling materials, when it makes sense to use more expensive coatings on targeted surfaces, how to optimize the location and timing of light cleaning cycles, and when to employ more thorough cleaning cycles based upon client-defined mission needs.

Forensics

Forensics

Biofouling is ubiquitous throughout the environment, with classic examples being: plaque on teeth, sink drain slime, and algal/barnacle growth on ships. Biofilms are heterogeneous mixtures of microorganisms that utilize the biofilms for protection from environmental stressors (bleach, antibiotics, desiccation, etc.) while also allowing the organisms to capture materials and nutrients for growth and film propagation. While biofilms can be a nuisance to human activities, the interaction between the environment and the biofilm can allow for novel forensic analyses.

Biologists at MSL are currently testing the ability for sink drain biofilms, as a controlled proxy for environmental biofilms, to capture and retain materials from their surrounding environment. Through advanced extraction methodologies and instrumental analyses, the scientists aim to understand how materials are entrapped and how long materials persist in biofilms as a means to identify the biofilm source and determine a timeline for contaminant exposure.

Current research at MSL has resulted in the development of biofilm sampling toolkits and a better understanding as to the retention and detectability of DNA, antibiotics, drugs of abuse, and heavy metals in sink drain biofilms. Continued research on biofilm interactions in built environments aim to understand how human activities directly alter biofilms.

Human Microbiome

Human Microbiome

The human microbiome is the collection of microorganisms residing on and in the human body. It is estimated that these microorganisms outnumber our own human cells by a ratio of 10:1. In many regards, the human microbiome can be considered an additional organ providing numerous benefits to the host organism. For example, the microorganisms residing in the gastrointestinal tract digest complex polysaccharides and imbue immunity to harmful microorganisms passing through the gut. In terms of composition, the microbiome represents a highly heterogeneous mixture of the different numbers and types of microbes associated with individual lifestyle habits, geographical location, occupation, and health status of the individual. Potential applications for microbiome research are numerous. Some notable examples include precision medicine, probiotics, and forensic applications.

There is a growing interest in understanding the human microbiome's potential for novel forensic applications that can augment traditional biometric measurements. This type of information offers the potential to gather information about a subject's interactions and habits that are not possible with other forensic approaches. Scientists at MSL are examining the geographical and temporal resiliency of the human microbiome. Specifically, the focus is to determine which microbial constituents are stable indicators of the individual and which constituents are determined by where that individual lives, where have they traveled, what they have been doing, personal health, and/or who they have interacted with.

This research has been enabled by the ongoing work to develop technology that can condense the diversity of the microbiome to a set of features that represent the microbiome profile of the individual. This is possible by the use of technology that selectively amplifies hypervariable DNA regions and a database that has been specially constructed, by scientists at MSL, to organize the associated DNA sequence information. Furthermore, specialized algorithms have been developed allowing the quantitative comparison of microbiomes. Specifically, these algorithms allow various analyses to be performed on the microbiome profiles including: calculating the similarity between microbiome profiles, determining which features of compared microbiome profiles are of greatest variance, and graphically displaying as a network the relationships among a set of microbiome profiles. These developments allow scientists at MSL to perform cutting edge research into the microbiome of humans.

Functional Management

Functional Management

Biofouling is ubiquitous throughout the environment, with classic examples being plaque on teeth, sink drain slime, and algal/barnacle growth on ships. Biofouling can have detrimental effects on human health (pathogenic medical biofilms), at home (flooding due to clogged drains), and economical (increased fuel consumption on shipping vessels). Current methods to prevent ship/infrastructure fouling rely upon paints laden with toxic materials that leach into the surrounding environment with the potential to create widespread and sustained ecological damage.

Biologists and chemists at MSL are working to understand, prevent and/or garner information from fouling. Research investments are being applied to develop new methods for characterizing the processes of biomolecular fouling and cellular colonization on different surface types. This unique fundamental understanding of fouling processes and biological-materials interactions is then applied to challenges in biomedical biofilms, biofouling, and biocorrosion.

Current research to better understand and mitigate fouling has been the development of a novel quantification toolkit that allows precise determination as to the extent of fouling on a surface. This toolkit is currently being utilized to test current and next-generation, non-toxic, antifouling materials for the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy (DOE-EERE).

Marine Sciences Laboratory

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