New find kills E. coli in 30 seconds

E.coli bacteria before (left) and after (right) they are killed by the new material. Scientists from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology took three years to develop the material. IBN scientists Yuan Yuan (far left) and Zhang Yugenwith
E.coli bacteria before (photo) and after they are killed by the new material. Scientists from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology took three years to develop the material. PHOTO: IBN
E.coli bacteria before (left) and after (right) they are killed by the new material. Scientists from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology took three years to develop the material. IBN scientists Yuan Yuan (far left) and Zhang Yugenwith
E.coli bacteria before and after (photo) they are killed by the new material. Scientists from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology took three years to develop the material.PHOTO: IBN
E.coli bacteria before (left) and after (right) they are killed by the new material. Scientists from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology took three years to develop the material. IBN scientists Yuan Yuan (far left) and Zhang Yugenwith
IBN scientists Yuan Yuan (left) and Zhang Yugenwith the anti-microbial material, which destroys the bacteria's cell membranes too.PHOTO: IBN

Material by IBN is key to preventing the development of antibiotic-resistant bugs

Scientists here have come up with a new material that can slice open the cell membrane of a bacterium and destroy the bacterium in seconds.

In laboratory tests, it was able to kill off E. coli - a bacterium found in the intestine and the common cause of diarrhoea - in this fashion in just 30 seconds.

The finding by scientists from Singapore's Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) was published in Small, a peer-reviewed journal based in Germany, earlier this year. The material - which is a chemical compound made up of molecules linked together in a chain and took three years to develop - presents a "much needed step forward" in preventing the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria or superbugs, said Dr Zhang Yugen, who led the research.

Many anti-microbial materials currently in the market, used as preservatives in consumer care products such as toothpaste and cosmetics, kill bacteria without destroying the cell membrane.

By leaving the cell structure intact, the bacteria are more likely to develop into a new antibiotic-resistant strain, said Dr Zhang.

One example is Triclosan, an ingredient which the European Union has already restricted in cosmetics. The United States Food and Drug Administration is now also conducting a review of it."We envision our material replacing such ingredients," he said.

Besides E.coli, the scientists also tested the new material against other common strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candida albicans - pathogens known to cause skin infections, pneumonia and toxic shock syndrome respectively. It was able to kill 99.9 per cent of these microbes within two minutes. The team behind the material is now in talks with companies which produce consumer care products. Dr Zhang thinks it will take three to five years for it to be used commercially.

IBN executive director Jackie Ying said the material can also be used to coat surfaces in hospitals to prevent bacteria growth or be used as an antiseptic spray.

Her institute, which is under the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, is also developing a device which can offer a quicker way to differentiate between various drug-resistant bacteria, and suggest suitable drug treatments.

Preliminary tests on methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA and one of the most resilient hospital superbugs, showed that the device can cut down the time needed to identify the superbug in hours instead of days.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 03, 2016, with the headline 'New find kills E. coli in 30 seconds'. Print Edition | Subscribe