Every day, we are exposed to millions of harmful bacteria that can cause infectious diseases, such as the E. coli bacteria. Now, researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR have developed a new material that can kill the E. coli bacteria within 30 seconds. This finding has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Small.
“The global threat of drug-resistant bacteria has given rise to the urgent need for new materials that can kill and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Our new antimicrobial material could be used in consumer and personal care products to support good personal hygiene practices and prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” says IBN Executive Director, Professor Jackie Y. Ying.
Triclosan, a common ingredient found in many products such as toothpastes, soaps, and detergents to reduce or prevent bacterial infections, has been linked to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics and adverse health effects. The European Union has restricted the use of triclosan in cosmetics, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is conducting an ongoing review of this ingredient.
Driven by the need to find a more suitable alternative, IBN Group Leader Dr. Yugen Zhang and his team synthesized a chemical compound made up of molecules linked together in a chain. Called imidazolium oligomers, this material can kill 99.7 percent of the E. coli bacteria within 30 seconds aided by its chain-like structure, which helps to penetrate the cell membrane and destroy the bacteria. In contrast, antibiotics only kill the bacteria without destroying the cell membrane. Leaving the cell structure intact allows new antibiotic-resistant bacteria to grow.
“Our unique material can kill bacteria rapidly and inhibit the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Computational chemistry studies supported our experimental findings that the chain-like compound works by attacking the cell membrane. This material is also safe for use because it carries a positive charge that targets the more negatively charged bacteria, without destroying red blood cells,” says Zhang.