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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
109, No. 33, 2012; Pages: 13182 - 13187

Liquid-infused structured surfaces with exceptional anti-biofouling performance

Alexander K. Epstein, Tak-Sing Wong, Rebecca A. Belisle, Emily Marie Boggs, and Joanna Aizenberg

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, 29 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.


Bacteria primarily exist in robust, surface-associated communities known as biofilms, ubiquitous in both natural and anthropogenic environments. Mature biofilms resist a wide range of antimicrobial treatments and pose persistent pathogenic threats. Treatment of adherent biofilm is difficult, costly, and, in medical systems such as catheters or implants, frequently impossible. At the same time, strategies for biofilm prevention based on surface chemistry treatments or surface microstructure have been found to only transiently affect initial attachment. Here we report that Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces (SLIPS) prevent 99.6% of Pseudomonas aeruginosa biofilm attachment over a 7-d period, as well as Staphylococcus aureus (97.2%) and Escherichia coli (96%), under both static and physiologically realistic flow conditions. In contrast, both polytetrafluoroethylene and a range of nanostructured superhydrophobic surfaces accumulate biofilm within hours. SLIPS show approximately 35 times the reduction of attached biofilm versus best case scenario, state-of-the-art PEGylated surface, and over a far longer timeframe. We screen for and exclude as a factor cytotoxicity of the SLIPS liquid, a fluorinated oil immobilized on a structured substrate. The inability of biofilm to firmly attach to the surface and its effective removal under mild flow conditions (about 1 cm/s) are a result of the unique, nonadhesive, “slippery” character of the smooth liquid interface, which does not degrade over the experimental timeframe. We show that SLIPS-based antibiofilm surfaces are stable in submerged, extreme pH, salinity, and UV environments. They are low-cost, passive, simple to manufacture, and can be formed on arbitrary surfaces. We anticipate that our findings will enable a broad range of antibiofilm solutions in the clinical, industrial, and consumer spaces.

Keywords: antifouling surfaces, biofilm resistance, slippery materials. surface engineering



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