To combat antimicrobial resistance, Professor Takeshi Ito of Kansai University and his team in Japan have been researching natural and artificial instances of nanostructured surfaces – including cicada wings, gecko feet and black silicon – which are bactericidal, with the ability to break the cell membranes of bacteria. This causes leakage, ultimately resulting in the death of bacterial cells.
Geckos are notorious for their climbing ability, with the elaborate pattern of their toe hairs the secret to their stickiness. Cicada wings, meanwhile, use their own spectacular patterns to repel water, dirt and, as it turns out, bacteria.
To test this theory, Professor Ito’s team genetically engineered different strains of E. coli with varying level of motility – the ability to move. They discovered that the more motile genetically engineered strains of E. coli were damaged the most quickly.
The team discovered that the most effective surfaces at breaking these membranes – and therefore the ability of the bacteria to resist treatment – actually had more bacteria attached to them.
To improve the bactericidal properties of these surfaces, researchers can tweak their structures to increase the number of bacterial cells that can attach. This approach may be able to be used to create antimicrobial coatings, which have natural advantages over chemical approaches to killing bacteria and could be used to counter the impacts of viruses.
This new knowledge could help in the effort to develop more effective bactericidal surfaces and bring forward important vaccines.
Laura Fisher, Executive Editor for RSC Advances at the Royal Society of Chemistry said: "Antimicrobial resistance remains one of humanity’s biggest threats. We are always amazed by how much more we have to learn from nature, and Professor Ito’s work is an inspiring example of how chemistry is always finding new solutions to current problems; even in the most unexpected of places."
The team are now considering developing a processing method using common plastics/resins to create nanostructured surfaces with bactericidal properties. They will also study whether nature developed these nanostructures as a part of evolution to fight microorganisms, or whether this is simply a coincidental phenomenon.
Read the paper now
Adhesion and bactericidal properties of nanostructured surfaces dependent on bacterial motility, RSC Adv., 2020,10, 5673–5680
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