Evaluating innovative coatings to suppress priority AIS

Biofouling is a natural phenomenon that sticks on structures, boats, docks, anchors. It adds costs to Minnesota’s industries, and is a vector for the spread of numerous invasive species in Minnesota waters. A current way of fighting biofouling involves using metals that are harmful to the environment. Researchers will determine the efficacy and potential of a new generation of coatings containing a non-toxic, antifouling, biological molecule. These coatings could help mitigate the spread of sessile invasive species not only in coastal and inland waterways but also on industrial equipment surfaces, while minimizing non-target impacts.

Biofouling is a main vector for the spread of aquatic invasive species. Current antifouling solutions are both partly effective and highly toxic to the environment. Using proof-of-concept funding LCCMR, we showed that our enzyme-based coatings not only inhibit fouling but also the adhesion of some AIS, including zebra mussels. This project will evaluate the antifouling performances of a novel, non-toxic technology using enzymes to disrupt microbial signaling (50/50 applied/fundamental). This enzyme-based coatings could help mitigate the spread of sessile invasive species in Minnesota and beyond. Moreover, the comprehensive description of microbial signaling disruption will enlighten our understanding of the importance of signaling in complex biological processes. The potential of this technology is such that researchers have established contacts with established coating companies, as well as local stakeholders. Results will guide the translational strategy for this technology, and MAISRC resources will be leveraged to perform high value experiments.

Phase II: 

In Phase I, researchers successfully produced an antifouling paint with an enzyme (GcL). The enzyme-embedded paint was applied to coupons at different sites in Minnesota, including the Duluth-Superior Harbor, the Tonka Bay Marina at Lake Minnetonka, and the Mississippi River UMN docks (Twin Cities campus). The experimental coupons were monitored at multiple timepoints during the 2019 field season. Sample analysis revealed that our enzyme-embedded coating inhibits biofouling at all of the different sites, and more specifically inhibited the adhesion of zebra mussels. These results provide evidence that this coating technology has the potential to reduce the adhesion of sessile aquatic invasive species to surfaces in several real world settings.

In Phase II, researchers will test the coatings in new situations, such as on Minnesota DNR buoys and on half of a boat. The project will perform these experiments over two years. These experiments are essential to raise stakeholders and potential customers’ interest.


Researchers have improved our enzymatic coating formulation process and produced coatings where enzyme leakage is reduced by ~10-fold, as well as developed new formulations and enzymatic assays that allow us to track more accurately enzymatic activity in coatings. They have conducted field experiments in a variety of experimental sites in Minnesota to evaluate the ability of lactonase-based coatings to inhibit the adhesion of aquatic invasive species on surfaces. This included real-world scenarios, such as painting on a boat. Preliminary samples analysis shows that the differently formulated enzymatic coatings reduces the adhesion of zebra mussels. Additional sampling, coupled with sequencing, will be used to relate changes in biofouling rates to alterations in bacterial community composition and provide unique and critical insights on the importance of signal disruption in biofouling.

Phase I:

This project will develop and test a new coating that can mitigate the spread of zebra mussels while minimizing non-target impacts. The build-up of algae, microorganisms, and bivalves such as zebra mussels onto surfaces is a natural phenomenon known as biofouling. A current way to fight biofouling involves using coatings that contain metals, which are harmful to the environment. This project is evaluating a new generation of coatings containing a non-toxic, anti-fouling biological molecule.

Coated samples will be submerged in the field and samples will be analyzed using microscopy. Organisms present will be quantified and measured. If successful, enzyme-based coatings could help mitigate the spread of invasive species like zebra mussels in Minnesota and beyond.

Project manager: Mikael Elias

Funded by: Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources

Project start date: 2019

Estimated project end date: Dec. 2022