Nanosized metal “knives”, living robots to do our bidding, and other top research news of the week
Impact Insider – Weekly Round Up of Trending Research
Volume 1 | Issue 6
When antibiotics were first discovered, they drastically reduced bacterial infections in humans. However, over the years, some bacteria evolved to become “superbugs”; they became resistant to commonly used antibiotic drugs. These drug-resistant bacteria are a huge nuisance to the society, causing some of the deadliest infections (and with no cure). Not surprisingly, researchers went on a quest to find effective solutions to the superbug problem. So now what, more drugs? But what if they create more superbugs?
In a new study, scientists have now created nanosized liquid metal particles that have sharp edges and can directly target bacterial biofilms (the layer that helps bacteria thrive). The knife-like edges of the particles can then “shred” bacterial cells, without even harming normal cells. The authors of this study are confident that this new method of attacking bacteria will revolutionize the field of antibiotic resistance. Not just this, they believe that this technology can be used to target cancer cells too. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
When you are asked to picture a robot, what do you see? Gears, metal bodies, and wires poking out? Well, breaking free of those science fiction clichés, scientists have devised a new robot using living cells, and they have used frog embryos to do this! These tiny “living” robots, nicknamed “xenobots”, look nothing like frogs, but can be programmed to perform a variety of simple functions like locomotion, picking up a payload, and self-healing. And once their job has been completed, these living machines revert to dead cells, in a span of seven days. While the chances of xenobots turning on us and exclaiming “exterminate!” is unlikely, there is concern about messing with systems we don’t completely understand yet. Nevertheless, as the scientists reiterate, understanding these mechanisms more deeply requires us to explore the unexplored, and this millimeter – wide living robot is a step in that direction.
Given the new gold nugget that scientists in Zurich have created, you might want to rethink what good gold jewelry looks like. Your gold watch can now be as light as a piece of plastic, with a violet hue if you so desire, while being made of real 18-carat gold and loosing none of its glimmer. The new gold nugget was forged by melting plastic fibers, instead of copper, together with gold nanocrystals. While this nugget resembles plastic, it also displays the properties of metal gold; it can even be used in chemical reactions requiring gold. Gold bangles may no longer clink and gold earrings need not be yellow; but they will glimmer and they will be gold.
How many times have you applied bandage to or dressed a wound and then painfully howled every time while changing the dressing because it got stuck to the wound and caused secondary bleeding? Scientists from ETH Zurich and National University of Singapore may now have a solution to this annoying little problem—a first-of-its-kind bandage that stops bleeding (because that’s what bandages do) AND does not stick to the wound! The scientists originally just wanted to search for new superhydrophobic materials—that strongly repel water or blood—as coatings for devices that are in contact with blood, such as artificial heart devices. One such material, made of silicone and carbon nanofiber, showed some unprecedented properties—it repelled blood, but also helped in its clotting. This rendered it unsuitable for use in devices. Serendipitously, these very properties made it ideal as a bandage!
In a remarkable effort to facilitate further research on potassium-ion rechargeable batteries (KIBs), the research group led by Prof Shinichi Komaba analyzed the workings of KIBs in great detail in a comprehensive review. It encompasses everything related to the development of KIBs, from cathode and anode materials, various electrolytes and all-solid KIBs, to electrode doping and electrolyte additives. Moreover, the review compares the different materials used in lithium-, sodium-, and potassium-ion batteries. Being the only study that comprehensively analyzes several aspects of rechargeable batteries, it could prove really useful for leading current and future researchers in the right direction. Having comprehensive volumes of past research on KIBs and all the acquired insight condensed onto a single article is of immense value to anyone interested in delving in this research topic that deals with materials that are widely abundant on Earth.
Avantika Deo, Anupama Prakash, Rachana Bhattacharjee, Sharang Kolwalkar
‘Bacteria’ by Shutterstock
‘Robot’ by Shutterstock
‘Money cat’ by Miguel A. Padrinan/Pexels
‘Bandage’ by Shutterstock
‘Batteries’ by Shutterstock