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Bacteria is a problem, but antibiotic resistant bacteria is an even bigger problem. Now researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm have created a more eco-friendly antibacterial fabric that can control bacteria but won’t leach into the environment and create resistant strains of bacteria. A simple fabric of cellulose is laced with antibacterial polymers that attract and then kill bacteria on contact. The material would be especially helpful in hospitals or for water treatment and with a few more modifications, it can be disposed in a safe way just by burning.
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Antibacterial fabric isn’t new, but the material and technique created by the researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology is an interesting advance. The team has come up with a more sustainable alternative to attaching antibacterial polymers to cellulose, which is used as the substrate. The antibacterial polymers cannot break free from the cellulose once they’re attached, which eliminates the chance of them leaching out and washing down the drain into our water systems.
This is important because when bacteria is exposed to antibacterial agents, it develops a resistance and can no longer be killed with normal methods. “If someone uses a cloth to wipe a countertop treated with antibacterial agents, and that cloth is rinsed in the sink, those substances are then spread further through the drain and into the environment where they can contaminate soil and water and give rise to bacterial resistance,” says Josefin Illergård, a chemistry researcher at KTH and a member of the team.
The cellulose and polymer fabric has a positive charge, which attracts the negatively charged bacteria. Upon contact, the polymers interact with the bacterial membrane, which causes cell death. After use, the fabric can be burned, but it leaves behind non-toxic nitrogen oxides. The team hopes to improve the fabric and replace the antibacterial polymer with a renewable material, which would allow the fabric to be burned and leave no trace behind. Interest in the material and KTH’s technique could lead to advances in cleaning, hospital sanitation and even water filtration.