National consortium formed to help companies combat bacteria

(From left) Dr Mark Richardson, CEO 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
(From left) Dr Mark Richardson, CEO 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 a memorandum of understanding on Feb 26, 2019.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CENTRE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL LIFE SCIENCES ENGINEERING

SINGAPORE - To combat the spread and persistence of bacteria which lead to health problems 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 a community of 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 easily be transferred to food, leading to cases of food poisoning.

To assist industries battling with biofilm-related issues, the National Research Foundation (NRF) on Tuesday (Feb 26) launched a national biofilm consortium that will translate biofilm research into products and technologies to fight the slime.

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 the 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 the SCELSE.

Several 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 which 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."

He added that the company is open to working with the consortium as a test bed for new technology to manage biofilm in pipes.

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