Montana State University

Slimy bacteria leads to list of discoveries

November 28, 2005 -- by the MSU News Service

Subscribe to MSU Newsletters

Bobcat Bulletin is a weekly e-newsletter designed to bring the most recent and relevant news about Montana State University directly to friends and neighbors via email. Visit Bobcat Bulletin.

MSU Today e-mail brings you news and events on campus thrice weekly during the academic year. Visit the MSU Today calendar.

MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
Call it a social experiment, if you will, but bacteria like to live communally. They grab onto a surface and build an entire neighborhood. They cover themselves with a protective slime, called biofilm, that acts like a force field. Bacteria-killing antibiotics can't get through.

Biofilms can gum up drinking water systems, foul pipelines and create slippery surfaces in swimming pools and spas. If they hitch a ride into the body on a medical device, they can cause infections. All told, they cost industry billions of dollars a year to control.

Scientists from Montana State University who make it their business to study slime have six new inventions ranging from tapping slime to help hide extra carbon to stopping slime from growing on medical implants.

MSU is now licensing these inventions, and companies have until Dec. 23 to submit applications.

The inventions are:

A special coating that may inhibit biofilms from growing on the surfaces of medical implants. Bacterial infections following hip, knee or other joint-replacement surgeries can create chronic infections in patients.

A compound that causes disease-causing biofilms to unclump, allowing traditional antibiotics a shot at killing the infection.

Chemicals, called biocides, that can be released at a controlled rate to limit the growth of slimy bacteria in industrial water systems, spas and swimming pools.

Combining bacteria and nutrients to create a gas-tight seal in geologic formations. The method could be used to trap gases such as carbon dioxide--implicated in global warming-- that are taken out of the atmosphere and sequestered under ground.

A compound that improves the ability of antibiotics to kill biofilm infections.

A natural and nonpolluting chemical that stops the growth of ocean-dwelling organisms called diatoms. Diatoms can build up on ship hulls and other submerged surfaces. The fouling can affect ship and related marine operations.

Companies interested in licensing any of the inventions should contact Nick Zelver, MSU Technology Transfer Office, 994-7868, or by e-mail at

MSU so far has licensed 104 technologies, 65 of them to Montana companies. Ninety-three patents have been issued on the university's inventions, with another 151 pending.

Contact: Nick Zelver, (406) 994-7706