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Nasty bacteria get gagged with plastic


May 17, 2010

The newly-developed signal sequestering polymers could keep bacteria like these E. coli from communicating

The newly-developed signal sequestering polymers could keep bacteria like these E. coli from communicating

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Everyone knows that when certain bacteria are present in an environment, they can cause infections. These infections can take the form of diseases such as bubonic plague, cholera, leprosy, and tuberculosis. The problem isn’t simply that the bacteria are present, however, it’s that they communicate with one another - essentially coming up with a battle plan. This signaling process, called quorum sensing, has now successfully been blocked by British scientists. They did it using plastics similar those used by dentists for repairing teeth.

The scientists, from Cranfield University, Bedford Hospital and the University of Kent, computer-designed a special type of synthetic polymer. This chemically-inert plastic has the ability to absorb the signal molecules that bacteria use for quorum sensing. The result - the bacteria may still be there, but they’re inactive. It is suggested that the signal sequestering polymers (SSP’s) could be used in catheters, IV’s, prosthetics, and other applications where the accumulation of bacteria is a problem.

According to the researchers, SSP’s have a distinct advantage over antibiotics. Because the bacteria themselves aren’t harmed, they don’t develop a resistance to the technology. One of the well-known problems with antibiotics is that bacteria continually evolve their way around them, resulting in stronger strains of bacteria that don’t respond to medication. Antibiotics can also be expensive, and cause side effects. SSP’s, on the other hand, can be inexpensively bulk-produced. Because of the use of similar cross-linked polymers in dental resins, they have already been shown to be neurotoxin, carcinogen and allergen-free.

The British studies also showed that the SSP’s significantly decreased the production of biofilm, the slimy substrate that serves as an adhering-point for bacteria.

The research was recently published in the journal Biomacromolecules.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth
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