Cicada wings inspire new antibacterial surfaces

Tiny structures on this insect's wings can rip bacteria apart. Replicating this could lead to a passive bacteria-killing material to cover public surfaces like subway poles.
Written by Janet Fang, Contributor on

The clanger cicada is a locust-like insect whose wings can shred bacteria to pieces – it’s one of the only natural surfaces we know of that can do this, and now researchers have modeled it for the first time.

Replicating this structures could lead to an antibacterial material that kills disease-causing microbes on contact. Nature News reports.

Psaltoda claripennis wings are covered by a vast array of nanopillars: blunt spikes on a similar size scale to bacteria (pictured):

When a bacterium settles on the wing surface, its cellular membrane sticks to the surface of the nanopillars and stretches into the crevices between them, where it experiences the most strain. If the membrane is soft enough, it ruptures.

The rupturing effect is like “the stretching of an elastic sheet of some kind, such as a latex glove,” explains study author Elena Ivanova of Swinburne University of Technology in Australia. “If you take hold of a piece of latex in both hands and slowly stretch it, it will become thinner at the center, [and] will begin to tear.”

Watch a video of a bacterium being ripped apart on a cicada wing.

A bio-inspired synthetic design could one day kill microbes on countertops and doorknobs and public surfaces that harbor disease, like bus railings or subway poles.

“This would provide a passive bacteria-killing surface,” Ivanova says, adding that it “does not require active agents like detergents, which are often environmentally harmful.”

The work was published in latest issue of the Biophysical Journal.

[Via Nature News]

Image from Biophysical Journal

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards