NTU scientists use antimicrobial extract from seeds in reusable masks

Various masks designs made by Ghim Li Group.
Various masks designs made by Ghim Li Group.PHOTO: GHIM LI GROUP

SINGAPORE - Scientists from the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have developed a sustainable way to extract antimicrobial compounds from seeds that can be used as a fabric finishing in reusable masks.

The natural antimicrobial compound contains powerful antioxidants that were found in lab tests to kill 99 per cent of harmful bacteria, NTU and global apparel and textiles manufacturer Ghim Li Group (GLG) said in a joint statement on Wednesday (June 17).

The compound has yet to be tested and verified against Covid-19.

This compound is used by GLG as a fabric finishing in its reusable masks sold locally and abroad.

The masks were also distributed to Singaporeans and permanent residents last month as part of the Government's strategy to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ingredients for the antimicrobial compound were obtained from plant parts such as stems, seeds and husks of seeds that are discarded during food processing.

The team, led by NTU's food science and technology programme director, Professor William Chen, used a grinding process called ball-milling and clean water to extract the antimicrobial compounds from the discarded husks of seeds as a solution.

This makes the production process more sustainable and safer for use.

Typical antimicrobial solutions require the use of harsh chemicals such as solvents that break down microbe cell walls, or ions obtained from various metals like silver.

When in contact with bacteria, the compound was found to bind to the bacteria wall, rendering the protein and enzymes on the wall inactive, thus inhibiting bacterial growth.

As the NTU team's solution is natural and non-toxic for humans, it has the potential for a wide variety of uses, such as in personal protective equipment, sports apparel, paints and disinfectants.

"As a leading research-intensive university, NTU is proud that our research efforts have yielded a valuable resource for Singapore in the fight against infectious diseases. This innovation was an unexpected result of research in food science being applied in reusable masks used in the fight against Covid-19," said Professor Lam Khin Yong, NTU senior vice-president of research.