Antimicrobial insect wings hold clues for improved medical implants

Some insect wings such as cicada and dragonfly possess nanopillar structures that kill bacteria upon contact. However, to date, the precise mechanisms that cause bacterial death have been unknown.

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Some insects, for example, dragonflies, have evolved nanoprotrusions on their wings that burst bacterias on contact. This has propelled the structure of antibacterial implant surfaces with insect wing mimetic nanopillars made of synthetic materials.

In a new study, scientists at the University of Bristol used a range of advanced imaging tools, functional assays, and proteomic analyses to identify new ways in which nanopillars can damage bacteria.

According to scientists, their study will help in designing better antimicrobial surfaces for potential biomedical applications such as medical implants and devices that are not reliant on antibiotics.

Through this study, scientists aimed to determine nanopillar-mediated bactericidal mechanisms.

Scientists used to believe that nanopillars kill bacteria by puncturing bacterial cells, resulting in lysis. But, the study contradicts this disbelief, suggesting that the antibacterial effects of nanopillars are multifactorial, nanotopography- and species-dependent.

Bo Su, Professor of Biomedical Materials at the University of Bristol’s Dental School, who authored the research said: “Alongside deformation and subsequent penetration of the bacterial cell envelope by nanopillars, particularly for Gram-negative bacteria, we found the key to the antibacterial properties of these nanopillars might also be the cumulative effects of physical impedance and induction of oxidative stress.”

“We can now hopefully translate this expanded understanding of nanopillar-bacteria interactions into the design of improved biomaterials for use in real-world applications.”

“Now, we understand the mechanisms by which nanopillars damage bacteria; the next step is to apply this knowledge to the rational design and fabrication of nanopatterned surfaces with enhanced antimicrobial properties.”

“Additionally, we will investigate the human stem cell response to these nanopillars, to develop truly cell-instructive implants that not only prevent bacterial infection but also facilitate tissue integration.”

Journal Reference:
  1. Antibacterial effects of nanopillar surfaces are mediated by cell impedance, penetration, and induction of oxidative stress. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-15471-x