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Cicada Wings Inspire Steel That Kills Bacteria

Thursday, December 21, 2017

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Researchers from Georgia Tech have been looking for a way to get around a microbe’s defenses amid concerns in the industry about the adaptability of bacteria. Now, the team says it has come up with a production of stainless steel that can kill bacteria.

Lethal Stainless Steel

The study, published in ACS Biomaterials Science & Engineering, indicates that stainless steel riddled with tiny, sharp bumps can repel and kill bacteria. This renders the surface practically uninhabitable for the microbes.

Lab test results showed that, for at least 48 hours, the surface could bounce off both gram-positive Staphylococcus aureus and gram-negative Escherichia coli, each of which are notorious for being harmful and drug-resistant. According to Gizmodo, gram-negative bacteria have a unique cell membrane that renders them impervious to antibiotics.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Lab test results showed that, for at least 48 hours, the surface could bounce off both gram-positive Staphylococcus aureus and gram-negative Escherichia coli, each of which are notorious for being harmful and drug-resistant.

The spikes in the stainless steel were also too small to affect mouse cells placed on the surface, which means that the material could potentially be used to safely coat devices like surgical implants.

“This surface treatment has potentially broad-ranging implications because stainless steel is so widely used and so many of the applications could benefit,” said Julie Champion, a Georgia Tech associate professor who works in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.

Electrochemical Etching

After facing issues with waterproofing steel through a chemical coating, Champion and her colleagues examined the wings of the cicada. The insect’s wings have nano-level protrusions that puncture the outer surface of bacteria, which most likely enable them to act in a similar manner to the spiked stainless steel. More research needs to be done to confirm this, however.

Electrochemical etching, the process used to nanotexture steel, is cheap and accessible, noted Gizmodo.

“[You] cannot tell the tactile difference between untreated and nanotextured stainless steel surfaces by hand because the nanotextures are relatively too small,” study author Won Tae Choi told Gizomodo.

The electrochemical etching process uses changes in voltage and current to create the steel. As it is, the process should be simple to scale up production of nanotextured steel, noted Choi. In the meantime, the team is focusing on making sure the steel can permanently repel bacteria, and will test it in practical settings.


Tagged categories: Antibacterial coatings; Research and development; Stainless steel; Steel

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