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Theme E: Cells

The chemical interaction of cell macromolecules with solid substrata is a primary mechanism essential to an enormous range of processes in microbial biotechnology, biomedical engineering and environmental bioremediation. This includes such widespread phenomena as intensification of reactor technology using biofilms, anchoring between prostheses and tissue and biotransformation of environmental pollution by naturally occurring attached microbial communities. A major challenge for system design and performance assessment is the lack of a predictive understanding of the cell-mineral interactions that enable the key biological engineering functions. These phenomena are strongly influenced by the pioneer encounters of macromolecular structures of the cell wall with solid substrata or particles. Our hypothesis is that a major step change in predictive ability at cell and biofilm scale can be delivered by quantifying interactions of constituent cell wall macromolecules from 1st principles using theoretical modelling at the molecular scale.


This theme will deliver targeted data sets on the interactions of pure compound macromolecules with synthetic minerals surfaces, to gain insight into binding reactions and intermolecular forces. The final aim is to further extend this study to living surfaces. These will be represented by pure culture bacterial cells as biological models in contact with solid substrata. Research investigations will combine experimental and theoretical methods to define and quantify the dominant molecular interactions.

Achievements so far, June 2013

  • Conformation of lipopolysaccharides from E.coli and alginates from brown algae when sorbed to silica and alumina.
  • Changes on conformation of poly-acrylic acid as function of pH from laboratory and simulation experiments.
  • Computational simulation of carboxylate-calcite interactions using poly-acrylic acid in the presence of water.