An Australian-Japanese research team has developed a new antibacterial polymer inspired by insects’ wings for use on food packaging to improve shelf life and reduce waste. The new product was announced in the journal ACS Applied Nano Materials on March 27.
Dragonfly and cicada wings are covered by a vast array of nanopillars -- blunted spikes of similar size to bacteria cells. When bacteria settle on a wing, the pattern of nanopillars pulls the cells apart, rupturing their membranes and killing them.
By replicating insects' nanopillars, a research team from the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, developed a nanotexture capable of performing the same function. To assess the pattern's antibacterial ability, bacteria cells were monitored at RMIT's world-class Microscopy and Microanalysis Facility. The research is a collaboration between RMIT, Tokyo Metropolitan University and The KAITEKI Institute.
In a report published on the university’s website, Professor Elena Ivanova of RMIT University in Melbourne, said the research team had successfully applied a natural phenomenon to a synthetic material, plastic. “It is a huge step in eliminating bacterial contamination and extending the shelf life of food,” she noted.
More than 30% of food produced for human consumption becomes waste, with entire shipments rejected if bacterial growth is detected. The research sets the scene for significantly reducing waste, particularly in meat and dairy exports, as well as extending the shelf life and improving the quality, safety and integrity of packaged food on an industrial scale, according to Ivanova.
"We knew the wings of cicadas and dragonflies were highly-efficient bacteria killers and could help inspire a solution, but replicating nature is always a challenge. We have now created a nanotexturing that mimics the bacteria-destroying effect of insect wings and retains its antibacterial power when printed on plastic,” she explained.
“This is a big step towards a natural, antibacterial packaging solution for the food and manufacturing industry. Now we can scale up and apply antibacterial properties to packaging, among a range of other potential applications, like personal protective equipment,” she concluded.