Insect Wings Provide Insight into Antimicrobial Implant Design

Dentistry Today
Professor Bo Su, University of Bristol


Professor Bo Su, University of Bristol

Some insect wings such as cicada and dragonfly possess nanopillar structures that kill bacteria upon contact. Using advanced imaging tools, functional assays, and proteomic analyses, researchers at the University of Bristol have identified how these structures damage bacteria. These findings may aid in the design of better antimicrobial surfaces for biomedical applications such as dental implants and devices that don’t rely on antibiotics, the researchers said. 

“In this work, we sought to better understand nanopillar-mediated bactericidal mechanisms. The current dogma is that nanopillars kill bacteria by puncturing bacterial cells, resulting in lysis. However, our study shows that the antibacterial effects of nanopillars are actually multifactorial, nanotopography- and species-dependent,” said Bo Su, Meng, PhD, professor of biomedical materials at the University of Bristol Dental School.

“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,” said Su.

“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,” said Su.  

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

The study, “Antibacterial Effects of Nanopillar Surfaces Are Mediated by Cell Impedance, Penetration and Induction of Oxidative Stress,” was published by Nature Communications.

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