Future Biofouling and anti-biofouling strategies


Biofouling of marine structures has serious economic consequences. For example, the blockage of pipes and equipment in the US power industry is estimated to cost around US$60 million per year, and the increased fuel costs for ships due to hull biofouling are suggested to be as high as US$150 billion annually (Selim et al. 2017). In addition, biofouling of fish and shellfish cages is a serious problem for aquaculture, accounting for, 5-10% of production costs (Bannister et al. 2019). The aim of this project is to understand how biofouling of marine structures will be affected under future climate warming.

This will be achieved using the novel technology of heated settlement panels (developed at BAS), which can be deployed in the sea and heat a boundary layer of the settlement panels to +1 and +2°C above ambient temperatures. Thus, these panels mimic ocean warming conditions in situ, whilst all other abiotic and biotic factors remain the same. They have been successfully deployed in Antarctica (Ashton et al. 2017; Clark et al. 2019) showing the significant consequences of warming on the local encrusting communities. Trials of these panels in the UK have also shown that even +1°C can produce tipping points in some species in warm summers. Whilst the Antarctic study characterised the panel biofilms at the different temperatures in terms of biodiversity, no analyses were undertaken to identify how the chemical composition of the biofilms changes with temperature and whether this affects development of the fouling community. This knowledge is critical for understanding biofouling colonisation processes in the future, with regard to settlement of encrusting communities and development of antifouling agents.

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Image Captions

Heated panels deployed in Antarctica, being collected by diver. Photograph courtesy of Terri Souster


The methodology will comprise two main elements examining natural biofouling processes under warming and the performance of antifouling coatings under warming in the UK.

For the first, heated settlement panels (with unheated controls) will be deployed in aquaria, where the differently heated panels will be seeded with specific numbers and species of larvae (e.g. Aldred and Clare, 2008). Settlement and adhesion of model fouling species, e.g. Balanus improvisus (Kommeren et al. 2019) and Ulva linza (Beyer et al. 2020), would then be examined in relation to biofilm community structure. Success rates will be evaluated under the different temperatures using high resolution photography, followed by examining of the chemical ecology of the biofilms and encrusting species contacts using a range of technologies, including transcriptomics, proteomics and mass spectrometry, high resolution microscopy such as TPEFM (two photon excited fluorescence microscopy); BCARS (coherent ant-stokes Raman scattering) and single photon CLSM (confocal laser-scanning microscopy) (e.g. Gohad et al. 2014).

For the second part, discussions will be held with a major anti-fouling paint manufacturer (a previous collaborator with the Clare lab) and the heated panels treated with different coatings and then deployed in the Hartlepool Marina (Benschop et al. 2018) to examine the effectiveness of these coatings in a warmer environment (e.g. Patterson et al. 2017). Colonisation rates will be studied using high-resolution photography and the biofilm analysed using some or all of the techniques described above, depending on how colonisation rates are affected.

No fieldwork beyond work at the Hartlepool Marina is envisaged.

The student will be based at BAS with significant time spent at Newcastle.

Project Timeline

Year 1

• Preliminary experiments with panels in aquaria to establish protocols for seeding plates, choice of species and testing of temperature regimes.
• Deployment of heated panels in the local marina to identify colonisation by in situ communities to inform aquarium experiments.
• Training in molecular and microscopy techniques for analyses.
• Identification of anti-fouling coatings to be trialled on the heated panels. Test panels deployed with temperature loggers to ensure enhanced heating with the different coatings. Student will work with BAS marine engineering team to optimise the heated panel system for evaluation of anti-fouling coatings.

Year 2

• Deployment of panels in aquaria to evaluate larval-biofilm interactions with temperature over time.
• Deployment of heated panels with different anti-fouling coatings in local marina.
• Longer deployments in marina to determine seasonal effects.
• In each case, samples will be taken for detailed photographic, molecular and microscopy analysis.

Year 3

• Analysis of field and aquarium experiments from the previous year.
• Further deployment of heated panels with different anti-fouling coatings in local marina.

Year 3.5

• Final analyses
• Write thesis
• Write papers
• Presentation at an international conference

& Skills

BAS will provide training in taxonomy, molecular techniques and public engagement. Furthermore, the student will work with BAS marine engineering team to optimise the heated panel system for evaluation of anti-fouling coatings. The student will benefit from being part of a BAS DTP cohort, with dedicated training courses and wider training opportunities within the Cambridge area and also part of the NU DTP cohort where the student will also acquire data analysis skills through existing ecological modelling and related post-graduate modules at NU. Other cross-disciplinary skills (e.g. project planning and management; scientific writing and critical analysis; data analysis and statistics) will be gained through specialist modules at NU. NU will also provide training in culture of fouling organisms, coating application, settlement and adhesion assays, and field testing of coatings.

References & further reading

Aldred and Clare (2008) The adhesive strategies of cyprids and development of barnacle-resistant marine coatings. Biofouling 24, 351-363.
Ashton et al. (2017) Heated settlement panels show 1°C warming drives species assemblage level responses in Antarctica’s marine shallows. Current Biol. 27, 2698-2705.
Bannister et al. (2019) Biofouling in marine aquaculture: a review of recent research and developments. Biofouling 35, 631-648.
Benschop et al. (2018) Drag-reducing riblets with fouling release properties: development and testing. Biofouling 34, 532-544.
Beyer et al. (2020) α aminoisobutyric acid-stabilized peptide SAMS with low non-specific protein adsorption and resistance against marine biofouling. ACS Sustainable Chem Eng. 8, 2665-2671.
Clark et al. (2019). Lack of long-term acclimation in Antarctic encrusting species suggests vulnerability to warming. Nat. Comms. 10, 3383.
Gohad et al (2014) Synergistic roles for lipids and proteins in the permanent adhesive of barnacle larvae. Nature Communications 5, 1-9.
Kommeren et al. (2019) Antifouling and foul-releasing performance of photo-embossed fluorogel elastomers. J. Mar Sci. Eng. 7, 419.
Patterson et al (2017) Role of backbone chemistry and monomer sequence in amphiphilic oligopeptide- and oligopeptoid-modified PDMS- and PEO-based block copolymers for marine antifouling and fouling release coatings. Macromolecules 50, 2656-2667.
Selim et al. (2017) Recent progress in marine foul-release polymeric nanocomposite coatings. Progress in Materials Science 87, 1-32.

Further Information

For further information contact Professor Lloyd Peck at lspe@bas.ac.uk or Dr Tony Clare at tony.clare@newcastle.ac.uk

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