Antibiotic resistance – brought about by over-prescription of the wonder drugs in health services and agriculture – is a global emergency with the potential to kill millions. Although one hopes that the tide will turn back in our favor, scientists are nevertheless scrambling to find alternative superbug-killing methods just in case this grim future is already a dead certainty.
Last year, it was reported that the science of quantum mechanics could help to annihilate the drug-resistant microbes in a rather clever way. This method has since been expanded upon, and a new Science Advances study has revealed that the use of strange objects called “quantum dots” in such medical treatments can be 1,000 times more effective than traditional antibiotics.
So what exactly are these mysterious dots? They’re nano-sized crystals, invisible to the human eye – roughly 20,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, for example. Thanks to their strange structure and diminutive nature, quantum dots, or QDs, can be tuned in such a way that they react very specifically to certain frequencies of light.
Back in 2016, the team from the University of Colorado Boulder demonstrated that when these QDs were bombarded by visible light, they became energetically excited. When this happened in a bacteria-heavy setting, these energized QDs interfered with the vital chemical reactions of oxidation and reduction that these microbes – including superbug strains of E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – require to live.
Importantly, it appears that these QDs can produce a compound known as a “superoxide”, which is readily absorbed by bacterial cells. This messed around with their ability to produce energy and grow, which ultimately ended up killing them off.
This research proved that the anti-microbial QD concept worked, but the savvy biophysicists were left wondering just how effective could it be.
That soon became the focus of the team’s new study. Lacing conventional antibiotics with these QDs, they tested them out on highly resistant bacterial strains, including Salmonella and MRSA once again. Ultimately, they found that green light seemed to be the most optimal murderous frequency.
Armed with this knowledge, the researchers discovered that in more than 75 percent of all 480 trials, far less antibiotics were needed to accomplish their missions when they were enhanced with QDs.
Overall, this indicated that QDs made antibiotics 1,000 times more effective than normal – a remarkable uptick. At this point, however, green light can only penetrate an extremely short distance into the skin, which means that QD-laced antibiotics can at present treat infections of the skin or open wounds.
Still, from quantum mechanics to the blood of dragons, it’s a relief to know that there’s hope yet that the future won’t be as biologically apocalyptic as it could be.