The warm months are on their way. Soon, the dragonflies and cicadas will be out in full force. While you may not be a fan of them, these two insects boast antibacterial properties that could help humans with vision problems.
At the 251st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society, held in San Diego, researchers form the Univ. of California, Irvine shared how they’re trying to integrate these properties into corneal transplants and other medical devices.
“The goal of our work was to be able to make polymer surfaces antibacterial without introducing any type of chemical modification,” said researcher Mary Nora Dickson at Tuesday’s press conference. Dickson was joined by Albert F. Yee and Elena Liang.
“Prof. Yee and the other researchers in group found this work where the cicada’s wings and dragonfly wings actually have teeny tiny spikes on the top,” Dickson added. “These nanospikes are a lot smaller than bacteria, and it was found that when bacteria land on the surface of the wing, they actually conform themselves to the tips of these pillars, and in doing so they change the shape of their cell wall and they eventually contort themselves into an unfavorable position that they rupture.”
Using poly(methyl methacrylate), known for its usage in Plexiglas and Lucite, the researchers created artificial counterparts to the insects’ wings. They used a commercial technique called nanoimprint lithography to create a polymer film dotted with nanopillars.
According to the American Chemical Society, poly(methyl methacrylate) is used in implantable intraocular lenses and hard contact lenses.
The technique was inspired by a similar approach used by the semiconductor industry in the early 2000s.
An initial study focused solely on the efficacy of the cicada wing design. They were able to kill bacteria from a group known as gram-negative, which includes E. coli.
However, dragonfly wings’ nanopillars were taller and skinnier, producing a better result. In addition to gram-negative bacteria, the dragonfly wings also took care of gram-positive bacteria and yeast cells.
Liang said that once the bacteria ruptures, the cells will wash away once a person blinks.
Integration of this process could eventually remove the need for patients to used antibacterial drops, said Dickson.
Additionally, the teams hopes to apply the technique to other medical devices.