The layer-by-layer (LbL) technique is becoming a powerful tool that has been applied in many surface coatings and functionalizations in recent years. It has many advantages including a fast and mild process, the flexibility of choice of substrate, and the easiness to scale-up. Novel antibacterial materials can be achieved using this technique, by immobilizing selected antibacterial agents on surfaces of desired substrates. An ideal antibacterial agent, a cationic polyelectrolyte, can be LbL-deposited onto the surfaces in mono or multi layers, make the surfaces lethal to the bacteria due to their positive charge. This approach is able not only to effectively control the spreading of bacteria but also to minimize bacterial resistance as well as the environmental impact.
Cellulose fibres modified by different cationic polyelectrolytes including PDADMAC, PAH, PVAm as either monolayer or multilayer assembled with PAA using LbL deposition have shown more than 99.99 % bacterial removal as well as the inhibition of bacterial growth. Among these modifications, two layers of PVAm assembled with one layer of PAA have shown the highest antibacterial efficiency due to the highest adsorbed amount and charge density. Secondly, PAA was replaced by a bio-based cellulose nano-fibril (CNF), as a middle layer between two layers of PVAm, which decreases the carbon-footprint and expands the possibility of using LbL technique in antibacterial applications, since the LbL technique can be used long as the alternate layers are oppositely charged. The fibres modified with this approach have shown similar and even better antibacterial properties than those of PAA.
To develop the antibacterial approach using LbL on cellulose fibres, it is also essential to understand the antibacterial mechanism. It was found that the charge density and surface structures are two important factors affecting bacterial adhesion and the bactericidal effect. To study this, different charged cellulose model surfaces were made by coating oxidized, regenerated cellulose followed by PVAm/CNF/PVAm LbL deposition, and a better antibacterial effect was observed on the higher charged surface. By calculating the force between the bacteria and charged surface, it was suggested that a higher interaction due to the higher surface charge causes a large stress on the bacterial cell wall which leads to the disruption of the bacteria. To further improve the bactericidal effect, the flat surfaces were patterned with micro and nano structures using a femtosecond laser technique. The weakening of the bacterial cell wall caused by the charged surface makes the bacteria more vulnerable and easier to disrupt. This approach has been shown to be valid on both Gram-positive S. aureus, and Gram-negative E. coli. The effect was greater on E. coli with a weaker membrane structure and higher surface potential, which shows that the antibacterial mechanism is a physical disrupt of the bacterial cell.