When anthrax spores go dormant, they develop a tough outer coating that can withstand heat, radiation and antibiotics, in one case even allowing them to come back to life after 250 million years. It seems that such spores could be no match, however, for a special pair of silk curtains.

Dr. Rajesh R. Naik, a scientist with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, led a team that developed a chlorinated form of silk. The process involved soaking regular silk in diluted bleach, then allowing it to dry. When the treated silk was exposed to E. coli bacteria, it killed almost all of them within ten minutes – it showed similar performance when subjected to spores of Bacillus thuringiensis, which is a close relative of anthrax.

Naik and his colleagues believe that in the event of an anthrax-based terrorist attack, such chlorinated silk could be used in curtains and make-shift protective coatings for buildings. They also suggest that it could be used to purify water, and to clean up toxic substances in the environment.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.