Absorbent Plastic Fights Bacterial Infection by Silencing Microbes' Chemical Conversations

An inventive alternative to antibiotics

Staphylococcus aureus bacteria

In order to infect, bacteria have to gather their forces. A new plastic-like material can disrupt their communications, making it difficult for infections to take hold.

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.