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Interaction of Bacteria with Cellular and Hard Surfaces Using Novel Label-Free Tracking Technology

   Department of Mechanical, Aerospace & Materials Engineering

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  Dr J Curran, Prof Eann Patterson, Dr Vera Slomka, Dr Eleanor DAgostino  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

It is now known that microbial interactions with host tissue play a key role in maintaining human health, and that perturbation of these interactions may lead to human disease. Equally bacterial adhesion to hard surfaces is a known route of fomite transmission of disease. Hygiene from personal care and home care products is a vital consumer benefit and is key to control transmission of communicable diseases in a home setting. Methods to measure microbial control, kill efficacy and survival in these environments are essential tools.

In order to develop and assess the efficiency of new anti-microbial reagents and surfaces we must develop testing regimes that provide timely, accurate and cost-effective experimental data focusing on the ability of new technologies to disrupt bacterial diffusion through solutions or interacting with surfaces to form biofilms and therefore quantifying the anti-microbial efficiency of the new therapy or surface.

Within this project we will use a technique known as “Caustics”[1]. The label-free tracking technology is based on caustics (a phenomenon discovered by Professor Patterson) and has been used to track and characterise the movement of single nanoparticles, as small as 3nm in diameter in a standard inverted microscope fitted with a suitable high-speed camera. Caustic signatures are generated which are several orders of magnitude larger than the real nanoparticles in solution, allowing their detection in an optical microscope without any requirement for labelling. To date the technique has been used to track and characterise the diffusion of metallic and synthetic nanoparticles in an array of biological solutions[2] and preliminary work has demonstrated that it can be applied to real-time label-free tracking of bacteria and viruses in solutions and interacting with surfaces .

The project will apply the caustics technology to develop in vitro testing regimes that can be used to assess the effectiveness of anti-microbial agents to both effect the diffusion[3] behaviour of bacteria in an array of solutions and also to interact with a surface and the surface’s ability to kill bacteria and prevent biofilm formation. The project will develop in vitro testing regimes that can further be expanded to enhance the complexity of the surfaces, developing synthetic mimics for biological tissue.

Furthermore the project will assess the effect of bacteria/nano-particle interactions with adherent cell layers using an array of molecular biology techniques to quantify cell phenotype and activity in response to being challenged by bacteria, nano particles or anti-microbial agents.

All component experimental data will be combined to develop real time label free testing regimes that could be used in the next generation of anti-microbial testing regimes.

Full training will be provided for all aspects of the project.

The project will be carried out in bespoke tissue culture, microbiology and imaging facilities within School of Engineering. The project forms part of a multi-disciplinary international research activity/ team with input from commercial partners.

For any enquiries please contact Dr Jude Curran: [Email Address Removed]

To apply for this opportunity, please visit: and click on the 'Ready to apply? Apply online' button, to start your application.  You will need to submit an application for a PhD in Biomedical Engineering and within the proposed area of research add in the title 'Interaction of Bacteria with Cellular and Hard Surfaces Using Novel Label-Free Tracking Technology'. 

Funding Notes

The funding for this proposal is from the BBSRC Collaborative Training Partnerships in collaboration with Unilever.


1.Patterson EA et al 2008. Optical signatures of small nanoparticles in a conventional microscope. Small.
2. Giorgi F et al, 2019. The influence of inter-particle forces on diffusion at the nanoscale. Sci. Reports.
3. Giorgi F et al, 2020. Settling dynamics of nanoparticles in simple and biological media, Roy.Soc. Open Science
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