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Lubricant-Infused Materials to Combat Marine Biofouling

Ali Miserez School of Materials Science and Engineering and School of Biological Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Marine biofouling has been a vexing issue for decades1. The large variety of marine organisms (e.g. mussels, barnacles, tubeworms) that can efficiently attach to immersed surfaces such as ship hulls or port infrastructures increase hydrodynamic drag and the weight of ships, or clog critical piping structures. In turn, biofouling results in high cost to the maritime industry and is responsible for increased greenhouse emissions2. It is also directly responsible for the translocation of invasive species.

If one wants to tackle biofouling and develop efficient coatings that deter or minimize fouling, it is critical to understand the fouling process of macro-fouling organisms such as mussels3 or barnacles4 across multiple length scales, from the molecular level of adsorption on solid substrates as done in our lab5 to the meso-scale of adhesion phenomena to field studies. Biofouling also entices captivating questions with regard to mechano-sensing ability of fouling organisms onto solid surfaces.

In this talk, I will present our recent efforts in using the concept of Slippery, Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces (SLIPS) to combat marine biofouling6, using mussels as a model organism to unveil the multi-scale mechanisms of fouling prevention. I will present recent results showing that slippery surfaces are remarkably effective in preventing marine fouling in both laboratory and field conditions. Detailed investigations across multiple length scales—from the molecular scale characterization of deposited adhesive proteins, to nano-scale contact mechanics, to macro-scale live observations— provides new insights into the physical mechanisms underlying the adhesion prevention. In particular, I will discuss how lubricant-infusion considerably reduces fouling by deceiving the mechano-sensing ability of mussels, therefore deterring secretion of adhesive threads, as well as how the infused lubricant decreases the molecular work of adhesion and macroscopic adhesion.


1. Flemming, H.-C., Sriyutha Murthy, P., Venkatesan, R. & Cooksey, K. E. in Springer Series on Biofilm (Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Germany, 2009).

2. Schultz, M. P., Bendick, J. A., Holm, E. R. & Hertel, W. M. Economic Impact of Biofouling on a Naval Surface Ship. Biofouling 27, 87–98, (2011).

3. Waite, J. H. Mussel Adhesion – Essential Footwork. Journal of Experimental Biology 220, 517–530, (2017).

4. Kamino, K. Mini-review : Barnacle Adhesives and Adhesion. Biofouling 29, 735–749, (2013).

5. Petrone, L. et al. Mussel Adhesion is Dictated by Time-Regulated Secretion and Molecular Conformation of Mussel Adhesive Proteins. Nature Communications 6:8737, (2015).

6. Amini, S. et al. Preventing Mussel Adhesion Using Liquid-Infused Materials. Science 357, 668–673, (2017).