MANHATTAN -- A unique chemical that kills deadly bacteria such as E. coli and anthrax is gaining momentum as a tool against biological terrorism.
The magnesium oxide nanoparticle developed by Kenneth Klabunde, distinguished professor of chemistry at Kansas State University, is now getting a gig as a cover model. The bacteria-killing chemical will grace the cover of the Aug. 20 edition of Langmuir, the American Chemical Society's journal of surface and colloid chemistry.
The journal will publish a study about the nanoparticles written by Klabunde, Peter Stoimenov, a graduate student from Bulgaria, and George Marchin, associate professor of biology at K-State.
"It's quite an honor. We had already reported that the nanoparticles were biocidal, but this is the first publication that shows what happens to bacteria when it is touched by the nanoparticle," said Klabunde, speaking in a new office still smelling of fresh paint.
NanoScale Materials, a company founded by Klabunde, opened its new building near the K-State campus in May. The growing young company will soon begin marketing the nanoparticle under the name FASTACT.
The study used three types of microscopes to show how nanoparticles destroy bacteria. The bacterium dies in about 5 minutes, ending up a misshapen mess with dark splotches where the nanoparticles have broken through its lining.
The nanoparticles have an opposite electrical charge from bacteria. Opposites attract, an unfortunate reality for the bacteria, as the bacteria and nanoparticles are drawn together when they are close.
The nanoparticles have other properties that help it kill bacteria. Their surface has sharp edges that penetrate tough outer shells, such as the one that protects anthrax spores. Anthrax has historically been difficult to kill, because the shell protects it from the environment.
The nanoparticles are bases, not acids. Basic chemicals, such as lye soap, soften the exterior of bacteria. The nanoparticles also "oxidize" bacteria, meaning they damage them by chemically stealing away electrons. Chlorine, which is used to treat water, does the same thing, only less effectively than the nanoparticles.
The company is working towards Environmental Protection Agency certification and plans to build a factory, two things that are needed to mass-produce nanoparticles. Though the first FASTACT nanoparticles will be magnesium oxides, other metal oxides will follow.
The nanoparticles can be placed in air filtration units or sprayed like a powder. They are solid, which is both rare and valuable in anti-bacterial chemicals. Most biocides are gases, which are corrosive and can be blown away by wind, or liquids, which are messy and tend to ruin electronics.
"These nanoparticle powders won't be as messy or as corrosive as other biocides and they have this attractive nature to the bacteria," Klabunde said.
They also are easier to use, because they do not require pressure pumps and water. The nanoparticles do not penetrate gas masks or affect skin. They only cause problems to human health if a large amount is inhaled. NanoScale Materials hopes to sell FASTACT to police departments, firefighters and other first responders.
"It's a rapid, no-logistical-burden product. Using it is the first thing you do when you have a problem with a chemical toxin or biological attack. It's the quickest and probably the safest thing," Klabunde said.
Materials provided by Kansas State University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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