Wood receives $1.3M grant to study biofilm formation
Thomas Wood, Endowed Biotechnology Chair Professor of Chemical Engineering and professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, has been awarded a five-year, $1.3 million grant from Dow Microbial Control, a business group of The Dow Chemical Company, to study biofilm formation in natural energy fields.
Biofilms are a sticky coating of bacteria that adhere to solid surfaces. They are formed in the presence of water and are persistent within the human body, in oceans and streams and on natural surfaces moistened by water. They can also be present in fluid-carrying pipes—a matter that is problematic in the oil and gas industry.
Biofilms clog extraction equipment in energy fields, making it difficult to pull resources from the earth. The impact negatively affects industry by reducing the economic value of the recovered product and requiring additional processing steps.
Wood’s research aims to understand the process by which biofilms are formed in order to inhibit future microbial growth. “We are trying to stop the bacteria cells from communicating with one another by using chemical signals,” Wood said. “When the cells stop communicating they become disoriented and can no longer reproduce.”
Wood’s group will grow biofilms in the lab and measure their progress. They will then introduce a number of additives to the biofilms and track the results. In addition to finding a solution that is successful in suppressing microbial growth, they are also highly focused on discovering a green solution that can be safely absorbed into the earth and promote future sustainability.
The studies are expected to lead to the identification of novel responses, among which, Dow can develop new diagnostic and antimicrobial treatments.
A Penn State faculty member since 2011, Wood focuses his research on biofilm formation, green chemistry and energy production. He previously held faculty positions at Texas A&M University, the University of Connecticut and the University of California, Irvine.
Preliminary research for the Dow project began in October 2015.