Fun Fact! It’s slime time!

You may not realise how much bacterial slime you are surrounded by everyday! The slime from one bacterium with the glorious title Xanthomonas campestris (pronounced ‘Zantho–moan-ass’!) is probably a common part of your daily life.

Useful Slime

The bacterium produces a sticky goo which it uses to attach to and spread over plants. This river of goo helps to carry the bacteria over the leaf surfaces and rot leaves causing significant crop damage, commonly called ‘black rot’. Enterprising microbiologists discovered that this thick sticky slime was only needed in very small amounts to thicken a lot of water. The slime is harmless, non-toxic and edible. Perfect!! It is easy to harvest and can be dried out to sell as a convenient powdered product! The refined product is often called Xanthan (Zan-Than) or ‘vegetable gum’. Today all sorts of commercial products use it as a thickener. Products include: low fat salad dressings, packet soups, shampoos and conditioners, cosmetics and toothpaste. The product also gives that nice smooth mouth feel to an instant hot chocolate!! Chances are that you eat, drink or bathe in it most days.

xanthan

 

Water Treatment Issues

So what has this to do with water treatment? The answer is the cousin of Xanthomonas, another mouthful – Stenotrophomonas maltophilia (sten-o–troffo-moan-ass malt–o–fil-ya). This organism is known to colonise potable water systems and cause serious disease in susceptible people. Furthermore the organism, like it’s cousin, is also good at producing slime. The bacterium is resistant to many antibiotics.The sticky slime it produces glues it onto pipe surfaces forming biofilms. Consequently the biofilm is almost impossible to remove once attached. So this is a fact that is not much fun at all. It is also a major challenge for building water supplies and water treatment! Therefore an effective Water Risk Management Plan is an essential part of managing this sticky situation!