With a well established ability to kill off bacteria, silver has come to play a significant role in the development of antimicrobial materials. Indeed, we've seen it used in keyboards, built into water filtration systems and deployed in washing machines as a means of fending off germs. The latest effort to harness the bacteria-fighting qualities of silver comes from researchers at Australia's RMIT University working with scientists from the CSIRO, who have developed an antibacterial fabric capable of killing off E. coli and other infectious bacteria within 10 minutes of contact.

The team developed the antibacterial fabric by embedding sets of nanowires loaded with silver-TCNQ into a cotton textile. After being coated in a silver solution, the nanoarrays began to slowly release silver-ions that killed off bacteria as they came into contact.

"The fabric can be built into most materials, such as cotton or nylon," Vipul Bansal, Associate Professor at RMIT's School of Applied Sciences and leader of the research team tells Gizmag. "And from there it is a simple step. We took a T-shirt and dipped it into the silver solution under some controlled conditions to enable the nanowires. It then killed off the bacteria within 10 minutes of being exposed to the organisms."

Further to the fast-acting nature of the fabric, Bansal also emphasized its longevity as a potential advantage over other antibacterial fabrics.

"Our approach involves the nanowires dissolving slowly, which will work to extend the life of the material," says Bansal. "In our studies, we observed that after dipping the fabric in the solution, the silver ions responsible for killing off the bacteria were still being released after five days."

Bansal says these materials hold great potential for curtailing hospital-acquired infections through applications such as antibacterial bed linen and surgical aprons, and could also be used to produce antibacterial "dressings and Band-Aids that could kill bacteria in the wound, resulting in faster healing." The researchers will now turn their attention to establishing the safety of the material in hospital environments.

"We've established the nanowires are toxic to the bacteria," says Bansal. "Our next phase is to test its toxicity against human cells."

The team's research was published the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

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