FBI: Films of Bacteria at Interfaces

Each year massive amounts of oil are accidentally or deliberately spilled into seawaters, which pollute the ecosystem. Quick remediation responses including in-situ burning or dispersant spraying have been insufficient to palliate the long-lasting harm caused by the spills. One avenue that might address this need is to exploit more effectivelythe inherent abilities of microorganisms to break down oil molecules. Because of the large interfacial tensions between oil and water, it is expected that manipulating the properties of the bacterial films could optimize the performance of bacteria in the oil field, direct microbial dynamics toward hydrocarbon degradation, and thereby ameliorate ecosystem recovery. The premise underlying this research plan consists in elucidating the mechanisms of film formation at oil-water interface and ultimately improving the designs of sustainable bioremediation solutions. This study aims to answer three major questions: (1) how does the physical interaction between bacterial films and oil-water interfaces enhance or impede hydrocarbon bioremediation; (2) how can the community behavior and interactions among marine bacteria be utilized to benefit bioremediation; and (3) how can hydrocarbon degradation be assisted and sustained by means of eco-friendly technology? This research incorporates physical and biological approaches to describe the mechanisms of film formation at the oil-water interfaces and explain its impact on oil remediation. Moreover, sustainable models of biodegradation would be assessed to promote hydrocarbon bioavailability by means of functionalized nanoparticles.


The following images illustrate the importance of the interfacial phenomena in hydrocarbon remediation. Bacteria adherence at fluid interfaces is essential to breaking down crude oil.



1. Murphy D, Gemmell B, Vaccari L, Li C, Bacosa H, Evans M, Gemmell C, Harvey T, Jalali M, Niepa THR. An in-depth survey of the oil spill literature since 1968: Long term trends and changes since Deepwater Horizon. Marine Pollution Bulletin 113 (1-2) (2016) 371–379.

2. Vaccari L, Molaei M, Niepa THR, Lee D, Leheny LR, and Stebe KJ. Films of Bacteria at Interfaces (2017) Advances in Colloid and Interface Science.

3. Niepa THR, Vaccari L, Leheny RL, Goulian M, Lee D, and Stebe KJ. Films of bacteria at Interfaces (FBI): Remodeling of fluid interfaces by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. (2017) Soft-condensed Matter preprint arXiv:1707.04337.