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Scientists Fashioning Small, But Deadly Bioterror Fighter

Tiny bacteria-killing nanoparticles kills E. coli and anthrax

TUESDAY, Aug. 20, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A chemical that kills deadly bacteria such as E. coli and anthrax could offer protection against bioterrorist attacks.

Kansas State University researchers are developing the magnesium oxide nanoparticles, and their work appears in today's issue of Langmuir, the American Chemical Society's journal of surface and colloid chemistry.

"We had already reported that the nanoparticles were biocidal, but this is the first publication that shows what happens to bacteria when it is touched by the nanoparticle," says Kenneth Klabunde, a professor of chemistry at Kansas State and the developer of the magnesium oxide nanoparticle.

In this study, Klabunde and his fellow researchers used three types of microscopes to determine how the nanoparticles actually destroy bacteria. When touched by the nanoparticles, bacteria die in about five minutes. The bacteria become misshapen and have dark splotches where the nanoparticles break through the lining of the bacteria.

The magnesium oxide nanoparticles and bacteria have opposite electrical charges, which means they're attracted to one another.

The nanoparticles have properties that let them destroy bacteria. The surfaces of the nanoparticles, for example, have sharp edges that can penetrate tough outer shells, such as those found on anthrax spores.

The nanoparticles are what are called basic chemicals, which can soften the exterior of bacteria. The nanoparticles also oxidize bacteria, which means they damage bacteria by chemically stealing electrons from them.

The researchers are working towards getting certification for the nanoparticles from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They say the nanoparticles can be distributed to attack bacteria by placing them in air filtration units or spraying them like a powder.

More Information

The National Institutes of Health has more on E. coli. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on anthrax.

SOURCE: Kansas State University, news release, Aug. 20, 2002
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