A newly developed material can effectively kill Escherichia coli (E.coli) bacteria in just half a minute upon contact. This new material can help address the rising concerns on E.coli infection as well as other drug-resistant bacteria.

Researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) in Singapore developed a new antimicrobial material that kills and prevents the growth of E.coli bacteria. This suggests that the new material can have numerous applications, specially in personal hygiene products.

The new material is called imidazolium oligomers and its chain-like construction can kill E. coli bacteria with 99.7 percent efficiency in just 30 seconds.

The material's unique structure is able to penetrate the bacteria's cell membrane to help kill them. On the other hand, antibiotics kill E.coli bacteria without penetrating their cell membrane. This means that the intact cell structure enables a new strain of drug-resistant bacteria to develop.

"Computational chemistry studies supported our experimental findings that the chain-like compound works by attacking the cell membrane," said [PDF] Dr. Yugen Zhang, group leader of IBN.

The new material not just kills the E.coli bacteria. It also ensures that none of the bacteria's cell structures survive, therefore preventing their growth.

Zhang added that the new material can be used safely. Its positive charge is designed to target the more negatively charged E.coli bacteria while leaving the red blood cells unharmed.

Apart from E.coli bacteria, the researchers also tested the bacteria-killing capabilities of imidazolium oligomers on other drug-resistant fungi and bacteria such as the Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Candida albicans and Staphylococcus aureus. They discovered that the new material can kill these disease-causing microbes in less than 2 minutes with a 99.9 percent effectivity.

The new E.coli-killing material comes in a water-soluble, white powder form. When the imidazolium oligomers are dissolved in alcohol, the material spontaneously forms gels. The material can be added to the alcohol sprays used in hospitals, homes, and even public areas to help kill bacteria and prevent further spread. It can also become a new weapon in the global fight against antibiotic-resistant microbes.

The findings were published in the Small journal on Feb. 17.

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