Giving Biofilms the Slip

Just as the invention of nonstick pans was a boon for chefs, a new type of nanoscale topography that repels bacteria holds promise for any surface where microbes are unwelcome guests—including food processing equipment, medical equipment and even ship hulls. Surfaces in regular contact with moisture are at high risk of biofilm formation, as microorganisms adhere, multiply and form stubborn colonies. The new technology, developed collaboratively by researchers from the Department of Food Science at Cornell University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, creates nanoscale pores on a metal’s surface. The presence of pores changes the electrical charge and surface energy, preventing would-be colonists from sticking, as demonstrated in a test case using aluminum and lab surrogates of the human pathogens E. coli O157:H7 and Listeria monocytogenes. According to Carmen Moraru, associate professor of food science, it’s probably one of the lowest-cost ways to manufacture a nanostructure on a metallic surface and will be more effective than chemical or antibacterial options for equipment parts that are hard to reach for cleaning.