A team of researchers is waging communications warfare on infectious bacteria, silencing the biochemical conversations microbes use to organize their attacks on biological tissues. By deploying plastic-like materials that soak up the chemical signals bacteria pass between one another, the team may have found a way to insert an element of confusion into the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The materials -- similar to the stuff dentists use to repair teeth -- are specially designed to absorb signaling molecules that bacteria use to gather their troops around an infection point. In order to get a good infection going, bacteria need sufficient numbers. If they can't muster, they can't infect.Further, the plastics also keep bacteria from forming biofilms, which are more or less slimy layers of microbes that serve as breeding grounds. Just as they need sufficient numbers to infect, to reproduce in effective numbers they need to rally the troops as well. This signal-blocking approach could stop them from doing so.
Perhaps best of all, it's not just another antibiotic that bacterial evolution will at some point outfox. It's almost like the precision jamming technology DARPA is seeking for troops in the battlefield, scaled down to the microbial level. Take away the enemy's ability to transmit information, and suddenly you've got a distinct upper hand.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.