War against superbugs: A coating that can kill MRSA upon contact

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute scientists develop a nanocomposite capable of killing MRSA. The special paint kills of 100 percent of the bacteria in a matter of minutes.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor on

Just because hospital-acquired methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections have been declining, it doesn't mean we don't need more ways to fight the superbug.

Particularly when MRSA grows on surfaces and in surgical equipment, the bacteria can grow into troublesome antibiotic resistant infections that can become deadly.

Jonathan Dordick, director of Rensselaer's Center for Biotechnology & Interdisciplinary Studies, thought if he could attack the bacteria naturally, the MRSA would stand less of a chance surviving.

Well, he was right. Dordick developed a nanocomposite capable of killing off MRSA.

Imagine if surgical equipment or the walls of the hospital could be coated with a paint that could slice up MRSA. The coating has carbon nanotubes with lysostaphin, an enzyme that is found in Staph bacteria that naturally fights off the superbug.

In the lab, when the nanotube-enzyme was mixed with regular household paint, all of the MRSA was eradicated in 20 minutes after it touched the special surface. Don't worry though, the paint isn't toxic to other cells (just MRSA), probably won't lead to more resistance, doesn't pollute the environment, and can be washed without losing its ability to kill MRSA.

In an interview with Dordick, he talked about how the MRSA-killing paint attacks:

That is pretty amazing that you can create a nano surface that has an enzyme capable of killing MRSA and doesn't lead to resistance. What exactly is killing the bacteria?

Lysostaphin is an enzyme that breaks down specific parts of the cell wall of Staph bacteria. When multiple sites of the cell wall start to break down (and essentially disintegrate) — the contents of the cell leak out and kill the cell.

Was creating the nanotubes critical to keeping the enzyme in the paint?

The nanotubes represent both an excellent material for the enzyme to attach to (and hence not leach out into solution) and is easily entrained within the paint or polymer network. Without the nanotubes, the enzyme would simply come out of the paint and be lost to solution.

How did you know to use lysostaphin? How does the enzyme just cut open the MRSA cell and not other bacteria and human cells?

We had been asking a simple question – how do some bacteria protect themselves against other bacteria invading their “space”, so to speak? Scouring the literature led us to a class of enzymes known as cell lytic enzymes. These are enzymes that cause cell membranes to be degraded and hence the cell is killed.

How do you think this paint could change hospital settings and other environments prone to MRSA growth?

There is an acute need to endow surfaces with specific and effective germ deactivation properties. The next step is to develop routes to scale up the formation of enzyme-containing paints such that they could be easily applied to hospital settings, among other locations. One may also envision other enzymes that have activity against other organisms. This is one future development underway in the lab.

Image Credit: Rensselaer/Ravindra C.Pangule and Shyam Sundhar Bale

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