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Reference Number BB/R011923/1
Title 3D-Printed Platforms to Study and Utilise the Photoelectrochemistry of Photosynthetic Biofilms
Status Started
Energy Categories RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES (Bio-Energy, Other bio-energy) 50%;
Research Types Basic and strategic applied research 100%
Science and Technology Fields BIOLOGICAL AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES (Biological Sciences) 100%
UKERC Cross Cutting Characterisation Not Cross-cutting 100%
Principal Investigator Dr J Z Z (Jenny ) Zhang
No email address given
University of Cambridge
Award Type Fellowship
Funding Source BBSRC
Start Date 30 June 2018
End Date 29 June 2024
Duration 72 months
Total Grant Value £1,019,680
Industrial Sectors
Region East of England
Investigators Principal Investigator Dr J Z Z (Jenny ) Zhang , Chemistry, University of Cambridge (100.000%)
Web Site
Objectives Objectives not supplied
Abstract The aim of this research, which is to be carried out at the University of Cambridge, is to 3D-print platforms for studying and utilising biofilms. The propensity for microorganisms to form biofilms on surfaces can have profoundly contrasting implications in different contexts. For example, microbial biofilms are a large problem in the medical industry since they can be highly resistant to antibiotics whilst at the same time causing up to 80% of infections, according to the US National Institutes of Health. On the other hand, there is a large community who are harnessing the metabolic power of biofilms to remediate waste water, carry out chemical synthesis, and generate electricity in an inexpensive and renewable manner. For example, photosynthetic microorganisms, including cyanobacteria and algae, have been recruited to form biofilms on conductive substrates so that it would injects charges into the substrate during light irradiation, much like solar cells, in what is known as bio-photovoltaics. Both separate efforts to eradicate and exploit microbial biofilms are currently hindered by knowledge gaps within the complex field of biofilm biology, where the interfacial biofilm-material interactions that govern biofilm physiology are not well understood. We want to develop a platform in which the surface morphology of different materials can be precisely controlled to study and control the number of cells the scaffold can accommodate. This will be done using of 3D-printing, a powerful prototyping tool used in a wide range of applications. As a starting point, this research will focus on using 3D-printing to optimise cyanobacterial loading into a conductive scaffold. The improvement in loading is expected to improve the solar-to-power conversion efficiency of bio-photovoltaics, which is currently very inefficient. The idea is to use 3D-printing to build a library of conductive 3D scaffolds varying in dimensions, morphological features, roughness, and materials, and screen these for high cell loading, biofilm formation, and test them under light irradiation to measure solar-to-charge output. An important parallel aim of this project is to understand the underlying mechanisms that give rise to the exchange of energy/charges between the organisms and the material during light irradiation. Currently, it is not known whether this exchange is due to a self-protective mechanism by photosynthetic organisms, a mode of cell-cell communication, or to what extent it is detrimental or beneficial to the physiology of the biofilm. To answer these questions, advanced imaging and spectroscopic techniques will be adapted to probe the distribution and chemistry of common cellular components within the biofilm during dark and light cycles. When the two parts of the project are married up, more wholistic strategies to facilitate efficient exchange between the biofilm and the conductive scaffold can be designed - either through bioengineering of the cells and/or throughaltering the structure/composition of the scaffold. The most important outcome of this research is that the new platforms will open up the study and ultilisation of biofilms in a large number of applications and research fields. The 3D-printing and imaging strategies developed in this study can be adapted to improve biofilm-materials interactions in current and upcoming biofilm biotechnologies and reactors. Similarly, they can also be adapted for biomedical research to, for example, screen anti-biofilm drugs, study biofilm resistance, and study problems in the large world beyond microbial systems (such as mammalian cells). A more direct outcome of this project would be the generation of valuable lessons and benchmark systems for bio-photovoltaics, which would benefit renewable energy research. We would also unravel a little more the fascinating photobiology of cyanobacteria, which play indispensable roles in the Earth's ecology.
Publications (none)
Final Report (none)
Added to Database 17/08/22