New scientific research units for AUT

AUT: Eradicating a cause of economic loss in New Zealand’s dairy industry is one of several key research areas for AUT’s new Biofilm Research Unit, which opens this month [March 2009].

Led by Professor John Brooks, the research unit will be a hub for research into biofilms – the bacterial films found growing in diverse environments like the human body, streams, medical apparatus and food processing equipment.

Professor Brooks and PhD candidate Huizi Li are currently modelling dairy biofilms for the targeted control of thermophilic (“heat-loving”) bacteria, which can attach themselves to the surfaces of dairy processing equipment.

“These microorganisms have the potential to cause major economic loss, as their presence in milk powder results in the downgrading of quality. The cells attach firmly to plant surfaces, such as stainless steel and rubber, producing a polysaccharide glue that makes them hard to remove and protects them from sanitisers.”

“Everywhere we look, we find biofilms growing, forming complex communities in which individual cells communicate via chemical signals. Biofilms are quite different from free-floating cells and often much more resistant to cleaning and sanitising.”

The Professor of Food Microbiology at AUT says biofilm research is also being used to inform the development of new equipment and materials with properties that mean it will not become colonised by biofilms.

Another focus for research at the unit is the impact of biofilms on New Zealand’s shellfish industry. Current research at AUT is looking into the effect of bacterial biofilms on the settlement and nutrition of mussel larvae.

The Biofilm Research Unit is being launched in tandem with the Molecular Genetics Research Unit led by Dr. Colleen Higgins.

The Biofilm Research Unit and the Molecular Genetics Research Unit are part of AUT University’s Biotechnology Research Institute.