Journal of Marine Science: Research & Development
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Microbial biofilms forming on marine surfaces are at the root of biofouling problems. The intrinsic resistance of
microorganisms in biofilms towards standard antimicrobials makes it very difficult if not impossible to effectively apply
current antifouling strategies without imposing a heavy stress on the marine environment. An important approach for arriving at
novel measures to control biofilms is to study their development and life cycle. Of particular interest is the occurrence of dispersal
events where a subpopulation of cells is released from the biofilm community to colonize new surfaces. Recently, the simple gas
and ubiquitous biological signal nitric oxide (NO) was identified as a key regulator of biofilm dispersal. NO, which is produced
endogenously in mature biofilms, was shown to trigger a signaling pathway involving the intracellular secondary messenger
cyclic di-GMP, which in turn activates a range of effectors that result in dispersal. Add-back of low levels of NO, in the picomolar
and nanomolar range, was able to induce biofilm dispersal and greatly increase the efficacy of various antimicrobial compounds.
Further, NO-mediated dispersal was found to be highly conserved across microbial species. Therefore the use of low, non-toxic
concentrations of NO was identified as a promising strategy for the control of biofilms and biofouling. Several technologies
have been developped, which include: (i) short and long half-lives, low environmental impact NO-generating compounds, (ii)
novel materials and surface coatings with catalytic activity for NO production
, and (iii) novel compounds for the targeted
delivery of NO to biofilms.
Nic received his Ph.D. from the University of New South Wales in 2007. Following on the discovery of NO as a key signal regulating biofilm dispersal,
he led a range of projects to develop innovative, non-toxic solutions to biofilm control in industrial and clinical settings. In 2009 Nic took up an ARC
International Fellowship to further investigate the molecular mechanisms of this new signaling pathway at the Imperial College London. In 2012, he
received an ARC Discovery Early Career Researcher Award to explore inter-kingdom signaling at a biofilm-plant host interface. At present Nic has
12 publications, and 3 international patents.
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