Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Antibiotic resistance developed by many disease causing microorganisms is an area of intense concern to medical community as well as food scientists. Whether such resistance is caused by indiscriminate use of antibiotics by the physicians even for small ailments and virus related illnesses or wide scale deployment of antibiotics by the meat and poultry industry during raising of the animals is a matter of debate and consensus still eludes the humanity. May be the bacterial species are continuously morphing due to mutation into more potent creatures capable of overcoming the effectiveness of many antibiotics commonly used to day. It is well recognized that prevention is far more preferable to curing a disease and there are a number technologies man has invented that can kill these predatory vectors. There are technologies based on heat, chemicals, natural bacteria killers, salt, sugar, alcohol, ionizing radiation, infrared radiation, ultraviolet light, blue light, super freezing, etc each with its own strength and weakness. Here comes another tool to annihilate bacteria based on physical principles which appears to be promising and some details are given below. 

Whether it's in hospitals, restaurant kitchens or our homes, harmful bacteria such as E.coli are a constant concern. Making matters worse is the fact that such bacteria are increasingly developing a resistance to antibiotics. This has led to a number of research projects, which have utilized things such as blue light, cold plasma and ozone to kill germs. One of the latest non-antibiotic bacteria-slayers is a hydrogel developed by IBM Research and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore. The hydrogel consists of water (over 90 percent of its composition), along with special polymers. When heated to body temperature, these polymers' molecules link together like the teeth of a zipper, forming chains that give the substance its malleable, gelatinous consistency. The gel is non-toxic, water-soluble, biodegradable, and maintains a positive charge. That last point is particularly important, as the outer membranes of bacteria carry a negative charge. As a result, when the hydrogel is applied to an antibiotic-resistant bacterial biofilm, the bacteria are drawn to the gel, which then kills them by rupturing their membranes. Because it's a physical attack, the bacteria are unable to develop a resistance to the hydrogel. Additionally, the gel doesn't harm healthy body cells, and sticks around on surfaces longer than fast-evaporating ethanol-based solutions such as hand gels. It is hoped that once fully developed and approved, the hydrogel could be used in applications such as wound-healing creams and injections, or implant and catheter coatings. More information is available in the video below.

Though it appears clean and easy to use, its limitation is that the same can be used probably in hospitals to treat wounds in a more efficient way and sterilize surgical instruments and surfaces. The innovators must explore the possibility of using these gels for sterilizing food processing equipment and surfaces that come in contact with bare foods during processing. Food industry, especially, the meat and poultry industry is facing enormous problems in pre-empting contamination of carcasses and processed frozen and refrigerated products by deadly bugs like Salmonella, E.coli and Campylobacter and the hydrogel, if edible in nature, can be considered for use by this much stressed industry.


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