Researchers have found a way to use magnetic nanoparticle clusters to punch through biofilms to reach bacteria that can foul water treatment systems.
The nanoclusters then deliver bacteriophages—viruses that infect and propagate in bacteria—to destroy the bacteria, usually resistant to chemical disinfection.
Without the pull of a magnetic host, these “phages” disperse in solution, largely fail to penetrate biofilms and allow bacteria to grow in solution and even corrode metal, a costly problem for water distribution systems.
The Rice University lab of environmental engineer Pedro Alvarez and colleagues in China developed and tested clusters that immobilize the phages. A weak magnetic field draws them into biofilms to their targets.
“This novel approach, which arises from the convergence of nanotechnology and virology, has a great potential to treat difficult-to-eradicate biofilms in an effective manner that does not generate harmful disinfection byproducts,” Alvarez says.
Biofilms can be beneficial in some wastewater treatment or industrial fermentation reactors owing to their enhanced reaction rates and resistance to exogenous stresses, says graduate student and co-lead author Pingfeng Yu.