03 January 2014
Covered with a forest of nanoscale spikes, the wings of the Wandering Percher dragonfly kill certain types of bacteria by mechanically shredding their cell walls on contact. Noting that black silicon – a synthetic material with potential applications in solar panels and night vision cameras – has a similar nanoscale structure, researchers wanted to see if it boasts the same microbe-killing properties. Sure enough, the spike-packed surface of black silicon – depicted here in a computer-generated reconstruction – slayed several human pathogens, including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. If researchers can find a way to cheaply produce similar nanostructures on other materials, they could create a new generation of antibacterial medical implants and surfaces to fight antibiotic-resistant strains like MRSA. What’s more, scientists predict that bacteria will struggle to evolve resistance to this approach because it will be difficult to develop much thicker cell walls that remain flexible and permeable.
Written by Daniel Cossins