Silk fibers engineered to fight anthrax

A new, inexpensive treatment was recently developed to convert ordinary silk fibers into a fabric capable of destroying bacteria, including armor-coated anthrax microbes.

The scientists behind the silk, whose work was recently published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, said that there are a wide range of potential uses for the new fabric, including curtains and other coatings to protect buildings in the event of a terrorist attack, according to

Anthrax and other bacteria of the Bacillus family encase themselves in a protective coating when they become dormant spores. The spores are capable of surviving extreme heat, radiation, antibiotics and other harsh environmental conditions. Some chemicals, including oxidizing agents like chlorine compounds, have proven effective against live bacteria, but have rarely worked against spores.

Researchers, led by Rajesh Naik, wanted to create a new coating using silk fibers. They found that soaking silk in a substance similar to bleach and simply letting it dry created a more effective means of destroying bacteria. Silk treated in this method for just an hour was capable of killing live E. coli bacteria. It preformed similarly well against the spores of an anthrax relative used as a stand-in for the bioterror agent.

"Given the potent bactericidal and sporicidal activity of the chlorinated silk fabrics prepared in this study, silk-Cl materials may find use in a variety of applications," the authors said, reports.

Naik said that the silk fabric could also potentially be used to purify water or to mitigate the effects of toxic substances.