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Insect wings inspire new method to kill bacteria on food

A new nanotexture that kills 70 percent of bacteria was created in a lab by a team of Australian and Japanese scientists. The goal of the research is to tackle the issue of food waste, especially in meat and dairy. 

It is estimated that more than 30 percent of the food we produce goes to waste. Sometimes an entire shipment of food is lost when bacteria is found. The scientists were inspired by the texture of some insect wings that are known to kill bacteria. 

“Eliminating bacterial contamination is a huge step in extending the shelf life of food,” said study co-author Professor Elena Ivanova of RMIT University. “We knew the wings of cicadas and dragonflies were highly-efficient bacteria killers and could help inspire a solution, but replicating nature is always a challenge.”

“We have now created a nanotexturing that mimics the bacteria-destroying effect of insect wings and retains its antibacterial power when printed on plastic. This is a big step towards a natural, non-chemical, antibacterial packaging solution for the food and manufacturing industry.”

The texture, as on insect wings, is made of very small “nano pillars.” When bacteria land on the nano pillars, their membranes are pierced and they are killed. 

“It’s like stretching a latex glove,” said Professor Ivanova. “As it slowly stretches, the weakest point in the latex will become thinner and eventually tear.”

The pattern of the antibacterial texture was discovered in Australia and then shared with the Japanese researchers who discovered how to implant the texture onto plastic, where it could be used for packaging. 

“The nanotexturing created in this study holds its own when used in rigid plastic,” said Ivanova. “Our next challenge is adapting it for use on softer plastics.”

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

By Zach Fitzner, Staff Writer

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