Black Phosphorus Kills Deadly Bacterial Cells


Peter Deryabin

Researchers have developed a nanothin material that can kill superbugs, and the material has great potential for future integration into medical dressings and implants to prevent or treat bacterial infections.

This innovative technology, which has undergone extensive preclinical testing, demonstrates its effectiveness against a variety of bacterial species, including superbugs such as Staphylococcus aureus, which are typically highly resistant to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is a serious global health threat, causing about 700,000 deaths annually, a figure that could rise to 10 million deaths per year by 2050 unless new methods are developed to combat bacterial infections.

The latest research, conducted jointly by RMIT University and the University of South Australia (UniSA), focuses on nanotechnology using black phosphorus as an advanced treatment for infections and wounds. The results, published in the journal Advanced Therapeutics, demonstrate the high effectiveness of this technology in treating infections. It is capable of killing more than 99 per cent of bacteria while leaving other cells intact in biological models.

It should be noted that the effectiveness of this treatment is comparable to the results achieved with antibiotics in terms of eliminating the infection and accelerating the healing process. For example, in experiments, wounds healed 80 per cent in seven days. This world-class nanotechnology developed by RMIT has been subjected to rigorous pre-clinical testing by wound healing specialists at UniSA. In addition, RMIT University has applied for patent protection for the black phosphorus-based material, including its use in wound healing formulations such as gels.

Professor Sumit Walia, research leader at RMIT University, said their new research sheds light on the way their innovative technology provides rapid antimicrobial action and then safely degrades once the threat of contamination has been eliminated. He explained: “What makes our innovation unique is that it is not just a surface coating. It can be integrated into common materials such as cotton and titanium used to create medical dressings and implants, as well as plastics and gels, making them durable to microbes."

Previous research at RMIT University has already shown that black phosphorus is effective in killing microorganisms when it is applied in nano-thin layers on the surface of materials used to create medical dressings, implants (such as titanium), and in plastics used in medical applications. 

Black phosphorus is the most stable form of phosphorus and is found naturally in many foods. In its ultra-thin form, this material easily degrades when exposed to oxygen, making it ideal for killing germs. "As a nanomaterial degrades, its surface interacts with the atmosphere, which leads to the formation of reactive oxygen species. These reactive oxygen species ultimately help break the bacterial cells apart."

The new study tested the effectiveness of nanofine black phosphorus flakes against five common strains of bacteria, including E. coli and drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. “Our antimicrobial nanotechnology quickly and effectively killed more than 99 of bacterial cells, which significantly exceeds the results of traditional methods of treating infections used today,” said Professor Walia.


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