Microbial dark matter driven degradation of carbon fiber polymer composites

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
A. M. BreisterP. Prabhakar


Polymer composites have become attractive for structural applications in the built environment due to their lightweight and high strength properties but can suffer from degradation due to environmental factors. While impacts of abiotic factors like temperature and moisture are well studied, little is known about the influence of naturally occurring microbial communities on their structural integrity. Here we apply complementary time-series multi-omics of biofilms growing on polymer composites and materials characterization to elucidate, for the first time, the processes driving their degradation. We measured a reduction in mechanical properties due to molecular chain breakage and reconstructed 121 microbial genomes to describe microbial diversity and pathways associated with their degradation. The composite microbiome is dominated by four bacterial groups including the Candidate Phyla Radiation that possess pathways for breakdown of acrylate, esters, and bisphenol, abundant in composites. Overall, we provide a foundation for understanding interactions of next-generation structural materials with their natural environment that can predict their durability and drive future designs.

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