Washington, March 5 (ANI): Engineers at Duke University, US, have found that microscopic particles of carbon known as buckyballs may be able to keep water pipes clear in the same way clot-busting drugs prevent arteries from clogging up.
The research team found that buckyballs hinder the ability of bacteria and other microorganisms to accumulate on the membranes used to filter water in treatment plants.
This attribute leads the researchers to believe that coating pipes and membranes with these nanoparticles may prove to be an effective strategy for addressing one of the major problems and costs of treating water.
"Just as plaque can build up inside arteries and reduce the flow of blood, bacteria and other microorganisms can over time attach and accumulate on water treatment membranes and along water pipes," said So-Ryong Chae, post-doctoral fellow in Duke's environmental and civil engineering department.
"As the bacteria build up on these surfaces, they attract other organic matter, creating a biofilm that slowly builds up over time," Chae added.
According to Chae, "The results of our experiments in the laboratory indicate that buckyballs may be able to prevent this clogging, known as biofouling."
The only other options to address biofouling are digging up the pipes and replacing the membranes, which can be expensive and inconvenient.
A buckyball, or C60, is one shape within the family of tiny carbon shapes known as fullerenes. They are named after Richard Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of the geodesic dome, since their shape resembles his famous structure.
The addition of buckyballs to treatment membranes had a two-fold effect.
First, treated membranes showed less bacterial attachment than non-treated membranes. After three days, the membranes treated with buckyballs had on average 20 colony forming units, the method by which bacterial colonies are counted.
"In contrast, the number of bacterial colonies on the untreated membrane was too numerous to count," Chae said.
Chae also found that the presence of the buckyballs inhibited respiration, or the ability of the bacteria to use oxygen to fuel its activities.
"As the concentration of buckyballs increased, so did the inhibition of respiration," Chae said. "This respiratory inhibition and anti-attachment suggests that this nanoparticle may be useful as an anti-fouling agent to prevent the biofouling of membranes or other surfaces," he added. (ANI)