SINGAPORE, June 6 (UPI) -- Researchers in Singapore have created a new antimicrobial material capable of neutralizing E. coli bacteria in 30 seconds. They detailed their feat in a paper published last week in the nanomaterials journal Small.
The research arrives just a week after U.S. health officials announced the presence of a "superbug" bacteria strain -- found in the urine of a Pennsylvania women -- resistant to the "last resort" antibiotic colistin.
"The global threat of drug-resistant bacteria has given rise to the urgent need for new materials that can kill and prevent the growth of harmful bacteria," Jackie Y. Ying, executive director of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, said in a news release. "Our new antimicrobial material could be used in consumer and personal care products to support good personal hygiene practices and prevent the spread of infectious diseases."
The chain-like structure of molecules in the chemical imidazolium oligomers -- newly synthesized by IBN researchers -- penetrates the cell membranes of E. coli and kills the bacteria.
Antibiotics can render bacteria impotent but they leave the cell membrane and structure intact, allowing the bacteria to generate new antibiotic-resistant bacteria cells.
"Our unique material can kill bacteria rapidly and inhibit the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria," lead researcher Dr. Yugen Zhang explained. "Computational chemistry studies supported our experimental findings that the chain-like compound works by attacking the cell membrane."
"This material is also safe for use because it carries a positive charge that targets the more negatively charged bacteria, without destroying red blood cells," Zhang added.
The researchers also tested the material against antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fungi, like Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Candida albicans. The molecular chain killed 99.9 percent of the cells in under two minutes.