Wastewater tends to be full of resistant bacteria and even free genes that are resistant to antibiotics. Nanoballs made from bismuth, oxygen, and carbon covered in a graphene oxide could be the solution to kill the resistant microbes.
The fact that microbes that are resistant to antibiotics are one of the largest problems of medicine is no secret. One of the biggest reasons for this is the fact that microorganisms are very happy to transmit genetic material that makes them more resistant. One of the places they do this is wastewater. A research team from Rice University in the USA decided to stop that. They developed a system with nanoparticles covered with graphene oxide that can not only kill the resistant bacteria in wastewater but also the resistant genes that freely move in wastewater.
It may not seem like it but bacteria are quite social organisms. They like to create bacterial colonies and this allows them to easily spread genes – including the ones that make them resistant to antibiotics. The spread of these genes then makes the lives of doctors very hard when trying to treat patients using antibiotics. The fact that the genes with the guidebooks on how to survive in environments full of antibiotics can survive for a long time on their own. So, they can even spread outside of the colonies through wastewater and then to rivers and other places where the wastewater later flows.
That is the reason why often we need to kill more than just the resistant bacteria. We also need to kill the resistant genes. So, scientists are working on methods that would not only prevent bacteria from spreading the genes by killing them but also on ways that would get rid of the resistant genes themselves.
This is exactly what the new technology from a team from Rice University developed by Pingfeng Yu and his colleagues. It is a disinfection system meant to be used in wastewater treatment plants. The key part are photocatalysts. The photocatalysts in question are nanoballs made from bismuth, oxygen, and carbon. When these nanoballs get under light, they start creating free oxygen radicals. These “shoot holes through” bacteria and even the free-flowing genes almost like shots from a shotgun.
When experimenting on multi-resistant strain of E.coli the scientists found out that the nanoballs work best when they are covered with a protective layer of graphene oxide. This layer allows the nanoballs to shoot out up to three times more free oxygen radicals. On top of that, the layer of graphene oxide also improves how the nanoballs attach themselves to the surface of the bacteria. Yet, at the same time, the nanoballs are large enough to be filtered out of the water and reused several times. The scientists confirmed that even if they use the nanoballs ten times they keep almost all initial photocatalytic activity and their ability to create oxygen radicals.
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