National consortium formed to help industries battle spread of bacteria

(From left) Dr Mark Richardson, chief executive of Britain's National Biofilms Innovation Centre; Professor Lam Khin Yong, Nanyang Technological University's vice-president of research; and Mr George Loh, National Research Foundation's director of pr
(From left) Dr Mark Richardson, chief executive of Britain's National Biofilms Innovation Centre; Professor Lam Khin Yong, Nanyang Technological University's vice-president of research; and Mr George Loh, National Research Foundation's director of programmes, at the signing of memorandums of understanding on biofilm research yesterday.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CENTRE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL LIFE SCIENCES ENGINEERING

To combat the spread and persistence of bacteria that lead to health scares such as food poisoning and antimicrobial resistance, a cluster of micro-organisms called biofilms must be suppressed.

A biofilm is a thin, slimy and sticky layer that houses bacteria and other micro-organisms on any surface. As the harmful bacteria are located close to one another, biofilms can accelerate the spread of infections and diseases.

If biofilms are present in a food processing facility, contaminants will be easily transferred to food, leading to cases of food poisoning.

To assist industries battling biofilm-related issues, the National Research Foundation (NRF) yesterday launched a consortium that will translate biofilm research into products and technologies.

Products such as sensors to detect biofilm presence and technology to disrupt bacterial colonisation are being developed to manage or get rid of biofilms, which are rampant on household surfaces, paint, water purification systems and medical implants.

The Singapore National Biofilm Consortium, which consists of institutes of higher learning, research institutions and industries, will be led by the Singapore Centre for Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE), an institution hosted by Nanyang Technological University in partnership with the National University of Singapore.

NRF will provide funding of $1.5 million over three years for the consortium, said an NRF spokesman.

Companies in the consortium will have access to knowledge and expertise from research institutes and SCELSE.

Companies such as consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble and German optical systems manufacturer Carl Zeiss have indicated interest in joining the consortium.

Flotech Controls, which deals in industrial and scientific instruments, joined the consortium last month to manage the bacteria-ridden biofilm build-up in its agricultural pipes that had caused animals in some poultry farms in Malaysia to get infected.

Mr Lim Chee Wan, sales manager at Flotech Controls, said: "We initially wanted to eliminate the biofilm, but when we discussed with academics from the consortium, they gave us another perspective. They told us that there is probably no chance of eliminating the biofilm completely, and we have to manage and co-exist with it."

Consortium members can participate in workshops to facilitate industry-academia interactions, and apply for seed funding for technology development.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2019, with the headline 'National consortium formed to help industries battle spread of bacteria'. Print Edition | Subscribe