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SU researchers utilize computer simulations to explore biofilm fragmentation

September 20, 2010

Ariel DuChene
(315) 443-2546

Syracuse University’s Radhakrishna Sureshkumar, professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical and Chemical Engineering in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science (LCS), and professor of physics in The College of Arts and Sciences, has been awarded a three-year, $426,290 grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate how biofilms deform and break up under mechanical stress. Biofilms are colonies of bacterial microorganisms that build up on surfaces and usually result in damage, decay or inefficiencies.

biofilmWhen planktonic or swimming bacterial microorganisms attach themselves to a surface, they secrete polysaccharides, creating a matrix of slimy polymers. There are numerous types of biofilms that are created by different phenotypes of bacteria. One bacterial type is responsible for the plaque that builds up on teeth, while another type builds up on the surface of Navy vessels, which creates additional drag and power loss as they sail through the seas. Bacteria can also colonize in arteries and lungs, leading to life-threatening infections. Biofilms are extremely resistant to antibiotics, as compared to planktonic bacteria.

Sureshkumar, in collaboration with the engineering and medical schools at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and the University of Colorado, Boulder will be utilizing innovative computer simulations to understand at the molecular level the mechanical properties, or biomechanics, of different phenotypes of bacteria. The team will be studying the genetic makeup of the organism and how it relates to the mechanical properties of the type of biofilm it creates.

This project is a cross-disciplinary and collaborative effort to explore biofilms. The SU team of Sureshkumar and research assistant professor Shikha Nangia will be exploring biofilms through computer simulations. Simultaneously, David Bortz of the University of Colorado will be examining biofilms through mathematical modeling. Mike Solomon and John Younger of the University of Michigan will be performing experiments in the same area.

The goal is to provide a transformative understanding of how the complex system of biofilms responds to mechanical stimulus, such as the one resulting from arterial blood flow. The team will utilize the fundamental insights gleaned from the study to develop efficient therapeutic routes to treat bacterial infection.

“I am very pleased that the parallel computer cluster that will be the primary workhorse for this project is housed in SU’s Green Data Center,” says Sureshkumar. “Further, through a mutual agreement to share laboratory resources, we will leverage the computational facilities at the Brookhaven National Laboratory that have been made available to SU faculty. Such state-of-the-art facilities are critical to the success of cyber-enabled discovery and innovation.”

The LCS team of researchers led by Sureshkumar includes Nangia, graduate student Rui Li and undergraduate student Adina Dragici.

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