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New antibacterial coating kills germs with the help of regular indoor lights

Smart surfaces - Summer Science Exhibition 2017

Due to the coronavirus, we’re all receiving a wake-up call about just how germ-covered the surfaces that we touch on a regular basis can be. Scientists at University College London have been working hard to come up with a solution to help tackle those pesky germs.

They have developed a new light-activated antibacterial surface coating composed of tiny clusters of chemically modified gold embedded in a polymer with crystal violet — a dye that boasts antibacterial and antifungal properties. This combination produces bacteria-killing hydrogen peroxide, which is found in laundry detergents, denture-cleaning tablets, and other cleaning products.

The researchers are not the first to develop light-activated, germ-zapping coatings, but their approach does things differently. As they write in an abstract describing the work: “The emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major threat to the practice of modern medicine. Photobactericidal agents have obtained significant attention as promising candidates to kill bacteria, and they have been extensively studied. However, to obtain photobactericidal activity, an intense white light source or UV-activation is usually required.”

Where previous approaches required either ultraviolet or high-intensity light to spring into action, this new surface coating can be activated by the low-intensity light of the kind that you find indoors. That makes it potentially far more useful.

“We are looking at this coating for medical devices such as catheters, medical tubing, and high-touch surfaces in hospitals,” Ivan Parkin, professor of chemistry, told Digital Trends. “It could also be used in things like phone covers and keyboards.”

The team has also demonstrated that the light-reactive coating works against different types of bacteria. In lab tests, the researchers used their special surface coating to kill E. coli and S. aureus bacteria with the aid of just 312 lux, approximately the amount of light you’d need to illuminate a town hall. By comparison, other coatings require at least 3,000 lux in order to work.

“We are working with a couple of companies to look at developing this commercially,” Parkin said. “The work is still a few years away from commercialization.”

A paper describing the work was recently published in the journal Nature Communications.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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