A team of Auburn University researchers has won a decisive battle in the war against germs. Dr. Virginia Davis, assistant professor in the department of chemical engineering, and Dr. Aleksandr Simonian, professor of materials engineering in the department of mechanical engineering, have spearheaded the work to create an antimicrobial coating that has the potential to prevent the spread of bacteria, fungi or viruses on common surfaces.
They found that by mixing enzymes called lysozyme, a known antimicrobial found naturally in egg whites and human tears, with single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWNT) "the strongest property known to man," according to Davis you have a coating that can be used on virtually any surface, and germs won't thrive.
Davis said the combination brought out the best qualities of the enzymes and the nanotubes. Coincidentally, this feat was reached by combining the best qualities of Davis and Simonian, with graduate student Shankar Balasubramanian, whose expertise is in biosensors and antimicrobial materials, and postdoctoral fellow Dhriti Nepal, whose background is in SWNT-biopolymer dispersion.
"It's the power of teamwork," she said. "You get the benefits none of you could have brought individually."
Antimicrobial coating is just one method being explored by researchers nationally to combat the growth and spread of germs, on materials found in hospitals, classrooms, offices and even on airplanes, Davis said.
The achievement at Auburn is the result of 18 months of work, but Davis said there is much work still to be done before anything is available for public use.
"The hardest transition is moving from the research lab to the real world," she said. "We still need to know how it will stand up in the real world."
If a company is interested in Auburn's research, Davis said the next phase could run more quickly.
"I think it's very promising," she said. "Engineering is using science to solve real world problems, and researchers have said for years that nanotechnology would provide solutions to all sorts of problems."
Staff Writer, Opelika-Auburn News