Artificial enzyme fights infection

Researchers at RMIT University, located in Australia, have developed a new artificial enzyme that is light activated to kill bacteria

Scientists at RMIT University in Australia have developed a new artificial enzyme that is activated by visible light to kill bacteria.

Made from tiny nanorods – 1,000 times smaller than the thickness of the human hair – the NanoZymes use visible light to create highly reactive oxygen species that rapidly break down and kill bacteria.

Professor Vipul Bansal, lead researcher on the project, said: “For a number of years we have been attempting to develop artificial enzymes that can fight bacteria, while also offering opportunities to control bacterial infections using external 'triggers' and 'stimuli'. Now we have finally cracked it.”

He continued: “Our NanoZymes are artificial enzymes that combine light with moisture to cause a biochemical reaction that produces OH radicals and breaks down bacteria. Nature’s antibacterial activity does not respond to external triggers such as light. We have shown that when shined upon with a flash of white light, the activity of our NanoZymes increases by more than 20 times, forming holes in bacterial cells and killing them efficiently. This next generation of nanomaterials are likely to offer new opportunities in bacteria free surfaces and controlling spread of infections in public hospitals.”

NanoZymes are emerging as a new class of catalytic nanomaterials that mimic the biological action of natural enzymes. The NanoZymes work in a solution that mimics the fluid in a wound. This solution could be sprayed onto surfaces.

The NanoZymes are also produced as powders to mix with paints, ceramics and other consumer products. This could mean bacteria-free walls and surfaces in hospitals.

While the NanoZymes currently use visible light from torches or similar light sources, in the future they could be activated by sunlight. The researchers have shown that the NanoZymes work in a lab environment. The team is now evaluating the long-term performance of the NanoZymes in consumer products.

The Melbourne-based university, RMIT, said the artificial enzymes could one day be used in the fight against infections and used to keep high-risk public spaces such as hospitals free of bacteria like E coli and Golden Staph.

The research is published in the journal ACS Applied Nano Materials.