Read the full article by Avni Shah (USC Viterbi)

“If you’ve cooked anything in the last decade, you’ve likely used a Teflon coated pan. Teflon is used widely commercially in nonstick cookware, food packaging, fabrics, electronics and more because of its unique ability to repel substances. It is also made of PFTE, a type of PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), which are extremely chemically stable and difficult to break down.

Toxic to humans and wildlife, PFAS are considered ‘forever contaminants.’ Their ability to persist in the environment makes them a pressing concern—one that the NSF is prioritizing in a new grant program and that researchers at the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering are hoping to address with the help of microorganisms.

The new grant is one of nine recently funded by the NSF in the kickoff of its “Erase PFAS” program. Led by Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Adam Smith, in collaboration with the University of Buffalo, the project aims to develop anaerobic membrane bioreactors (AnMBRs) that rely on both bacteria and membranes to remove and destroy PFAS from water. The first step is to identify microbes that demonstrate behavior consistent with decreasing PFAS concentration, and later develop microbial cultures that transform PFAS into less harmful byproducts.

‘PFAS are hard to break down because they feature carbon fluorine bonds, which are very strong and difficult to break,” Smith said. “Breaking the bonds, whether via a physical or chemical process, takes a huge investment of energy. We’re trying to find a more efficient route, and that tends to be microorganisms.'”…