Published: 15 January 2019

New project to explore how ‘painted’ bacteria could reduce greenhouse gases

The Leverhulme Trust has awarded Surrey a project grant to fund research into biocoatings – a kind of ‘paint’ in which bacteria are trapped – and investigate how they can be used in sustainable technologies.

Researchers in Surrey’s Department of Physics and Department of Microbial Sciences will be collaborating on the project, which begins in April.

The bacteria within biocoatings do not grow or multiply, but are metabolically active. In a ‘zombie’ state, the bacteria can perform useful functions such as absorbing greenhouse gases or producing gases that can be used to provide energy in fuel cells. Biocoatings can also be used to clean wastewater or to sense changes in the environment.

The objective of Surrey’s interdisciplinary project will be to improve the performance of biocoatings so that bacteria stay active for longer. The researchers aim to design materials that will keep the bacteria hydrated, while also allowing the easy passage of gases in and out of the coating.

Professor Joseph Keddie, of the Soft Matter Group in the Department of Physics, said: “I am delighted to use my experience with polymers and coatings to help address some of society’s problems. There is a need to reduce greenhouse gases such as methane and CO2 and this research will contribute to meeting that need. We envisage that our designed biocoatings will offer a step-change in performance when eventually used by bioengineers in reactors.”

Dr Suzie Hingley-Wilson, Lecturer in Bacteriology, commented: “Bacteria are fascinating to study and, without them, the world as we know it would not exist. As a microbiologist, I’m looking forward to working with soft matter scientists to design biocoatings that will sustain and harness bacteria for a variety of useful processes.”

The Leverhulme Trust funding will support a post-doctoral researcher who will study the properties of biocoatings, and a PhD student in microbiology who will culture and genetically modify the bacteria and study the requisite functions.

The Leverhulme Trust, established in 1925, offers 13 different schemes to support research across a range of disciplines, from the arts and humanities to the sciences.


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