Bacterial adhesion is problematic in many diverse applications. Coatings of hydrophilic polymer chains in a brush configuration reduce bacterial adhesion by orders of magnitude, but not to zero. Here, the mechanism by which polymer-brush functionalized surfaces reduce bacterial adhesion from a flowing carrier fluid by relating bacterial adhesion with normally oriented adhesion and friction forces on polymer (PEG)-brush coatings of different softness is studied. Softer brush coatings deform more than rigid ones, which yields extensive bond-maturation and strong, normally oriented adhesion forces, accompanied by irreversible adhesion of bacteria. On rigid brushes, normally oriented adhesion forces remain small, allowing desorption and accordingly lower numbers of adhering bacteria result. Friction forces, generated by fluid flow and normally oriented adhesion forces, are required to oppose fluid shear forces and cause immobile adhesion. Summarizing, inclusion of friction forces and substratum softness provides a more complete mechanism of bacterial adhesion from flowing carrier fluids than available hitherto.
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