Bacteria can thrive on many surfaces, surviving and multiplying for days. But Purdue University scientists have figured out a way to combat the pathogens by turning metal surfaces into bacteria killing zones.
Researchers say that by laser-etching different patterns in metal surfaces at the microscopic level, they have been able to enhance their antimicrobial properties. Early experiments have focused on copper, although the Purdue investigators are looking at other materials.
The researchers point out their findings relate to bacteria, and not to other much-smaller pathogens, such as viruses. So, their new method of treating metals would not offer protection against, for example, the novel coronavirus behind COVID-19.
It’s been known for centuries that copper possess bacteria-killing properties. Scientists, however, say the metal can take hours to get the job done. But creating a textured surface can immediately kill the pathogens, including the superbug MRSA (MUR-sa).
The etching method creates additional surface area. This means there is more opportunity for the bacteria to rupture at contact with the metal.
The discovery could have important implications for the medical device industry, including orthopedic implants. Scientists say it would reduce the use of antibiotics and help lessen the spread of infection.
Another benefit of the technique, at least for orthopedic implants, is that it makes a surface better able to attach to bone cells, creating a stronger bond.
The technique is simple enough to easily be scalable for device manufacturers, who might consider etching a simple message on their products: Bacteria not welcome.