Cawthron Institute and Durham University researchers find new lead in search for biofouling solutions

2 February 2022

An interdisciplinary collaboration between Nelson’s Cawthron Institute and researchers at Durham University has found that nanocoatings for surfaces could be developed into versatile and environmentally-friendly anti-fouling solutions in a variety of areas including aquaculture and especially for algae production. Biofouling is the build-up of microorganisms, plants, algae, or small animals where it is not wanted on surfaces in the water and it is a big issue for marine industries including aquaculture.

The researchers, led by Cawthron Institute algal biotechnologist Dr Mike Packer working together with Prof Jas Pal Badyal FRS, a world-leading expert in the chemistry of functional surfaces from Durham University, explored coatings that attract and repel water differently for their use in algal production in an aquaculture setting.


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Cawthron Institute Algal Biotechnologist Dr Mike Packer in the laboratory. 

Dr Packer says the results of their experiments reveal that some of the coatings work very well to prevent biofouling of surfaces of algae culture systems and are non-toxic to algae used in aquaculture.

“There is increasing demand for antifouling solutions that don’t cause unwanted environmental effects in the marine environment, so this is a great finding that we hope to explore further,” Dr Packer says.

“A method called ‘pulsed plasma deposition’ was used to create a nanocoating, which is an ultrathin layer of chemical compounds that forms a protective barrier for the surface they are applied to.”

“The research gives insight into how controlling the wettability of the surfaces of a system can be used to control how the algae associate with it and there are also applications where greater ‘stickiness’ might also be useful. Additionally, the findings could lead to the use of newer more sustainable materials being used in algae production.”

“These findings are an exciting new development in Cawthron’s marine antifouling R&D pipeline, which is emerging as internationally-leading capability. For example, complementary interdisciplinary research being done by Cawthron colleagues Drs Patrick Cahill and Johan Svenson who are developing a class of marine cyclic peptides (peptides are chains of amino acids) that prevent biofouling on surfaces but breakdown to harmless amino acids in the marine environment.”

“With our combined expertise, and strong relationships with industry partners, stakeholders and academic researchers, we’re in a strong position to work collaboratively to make a big difference to the success of antifouling efforts in marine environments with better outcomes for blue economy industries and New Zealand’s biosecurity.”

Read the research paper here.

Find out more about Cawthron’s biosecurity research.

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