A slippery proposition

Credit: Shahrouz Amini.

Mussels are considered pests in the maritime industry—they attach to ship hulls or other underwater facilities such as aquaculture fisheries with the help of specialised adhesive thread proteins produced at the tips of their muscular feet, weighing down ships and increasing fuel and production costs.

A new surface coating, invented by a team of materials scientists and biologists from NTU’s Centre for Biomimetic Sensor Science, in collaboration with the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, promises to thwart future attempts by mussels and other biofouling organisms to attach to solid surfaces.

“In lab tests in which mussels were allowed to dynamically explore substrates and find the most suitable surface on which to attach, surface lubricant infusion repelled the mussels and fully prevented adhesion,” says team leader Assoc Prof Ali Miserez.

Called SLIPS for “Slippery, Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces”, the coating was shown to be up to 30-fold more efficient than state-of-the-art coatings used in the maritime industry. When formulated into a long-lasting, high-performance coating, the non-toxic lubricant not only repelled mussels but also microalgal biofilms and other soft biofouling organisms in complex marine environments such as harbours in long-term studies.

The SLIPS technology could provide significant protection to maritime infrastructure such as ships, ports or aquaculture facilities as well as ecosystems threatened by the global translocation of invasive species, the researchers say.

The study “Preventing mussel adhesion using lubricant-infused materials” was published in Science (2017), DOI: 10.1126/science.aai8977; videos showcasing the research can be found here, and here.
This article appeared first in NTU’s research & innovation magazine Pushing Frontiers (issue #13, June 2018).

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