Innovation That Matters

| Photo source The University of Surrey

Desert bacteria could paint our way to a greener future

Sustainability

A new ‘biocoating’ paint has wide-reaching applications – from tackling climate change to Mars exploration

Spotted: With more severe and UV-intensive weather occurring more regularly as the climate changes, smart solutions are needed to adapt to this new reality and continue to reduce CO2 in the atmosphere. 

Researchers at the University of Surrey have discovered that an extremophile cyanobacteria found in the desert, Chroococcidiopus cubana, can be suspended in colloidal polymers (otherwise known as synthetic latex) to achieve the effect of a respiring paint. Because it has adapted to the desert, the bacteria are resistant to harsh conditions like intense heat, UV, and pH levels, high salt concentrations, and otherwise arid environments. 

This paint – termed ‘green living paint’ – is metabolically active, which means the bacteria still use energy and CO2 to produce oxygen, much like a plant. The paint also contains a halloysite nanotube, which enables strong gaseous porosity for both great gas exchange and hydration of the bacteria. 

With the paint capable of producing 0.4 grammes of oxygen per day per gramme of biomass while simultaneously taking in CO2, the potential applications are promising. For one, the biocoating could revolutionise processes that rely on bioreactors, like food and pharmaceutical production and wastewater treatment. Normal bioreactor processes tend to be water-intensive, but because Chroococcidiopus cubana is adapted to water-scarce conditions, the ‘green living paint’ could boost bioreactors and other biotech applications without the large water footprint. 

There are numerous other potential applications. For example, the same ultraviolet (UV) resistance that makes the biocoating ideal for use in extreme weather and environments on Earth are the same traits that make the bacteria potentially efficacious in Mars colonisation, according to lead author of the paper Simone Krings. There are also possible implications for bioremediation (using microbes to decontaminate soil and water) and sustainable energy production. 

There are many innovators turning to our microscopic friends to help with the sustainable transition across various industries. Springwise has also spotted this sustainable soil-boosting bacteria as well as this enzyme that helps turn air into electricity.

Written By: Archie Cox

Email: s.krings@surrey.ac.uk

Website: surrey.ac.uk

Contact: surrey.ac.uk/contact

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