A buzzing revelation: placing beeswax and metals into ceramics creates an antibacterial supermaterial

Antibacterial soap has its downfalls- the use of it everywhere is enabling strains of bacteria to become immune to the product resulting in drug-resistant ‘superbugs.’

Bacterial growth on material surfaces- door handles, benches, and tables, for example, are the leading steps in the formation of bacterial infection and food contamination. The choice of materials that we use, therefore, is a useful strategy in the development of a cleaner and healthier environment.

Image credit: John Sullivan

Research using iTEM images has shown that particular metals- copper, zinc, nickel, cobalt and lead, disrupt bacterial cell walls and other cellular components. This is called the oligodynamic effect: the toxic effect of metal ions on spores, algae, and living cells.

The knowledge of certain metal's antibacterial activity is a good starting point for managing bacteria levels in the built environment. But instead of solely using metals, which is environmentally unsustainable, what sustainable materials can we develop that also have beneficial antibacterial qualities?

Image credit: Emmanuel Boutet 

Although beeswax ornaments have been used in many European countries as a means for decoration, the benefits of using beeswax go beyond its waxy, yellow exterior. Beeswax is an environmentally friendly, chemical-free material with proven antifungal and antibacterial qualities. When placed into ceramics, beeswax retains its antibacterial traits and this combination can be utilized in various fields including sewage systems and biomedical engineering, for example.

Interestingly, a recent study revealed that placing particular metals into ceramics constructed with beeswax increases antibacterial rates by up to 99.5%. In particular, when submerged in red mud industrial waste, the ceramics (constructed with beeswax, zinc, and silver), proved to have excellent antibacterial effects, reducing the bacterial level. Moreover, the incorporation of metals into the ceramics did not alter the material's appearance, and instead, the metal particles were efficiently dispersed throughout the ceramic.

Image credit: CCO

Although metals have many material advantages (non-cracking and resistant), ceramics are cheaper, heat resistant and are also long-lasting. With this in mind, this research suggests that by constructing ceramic products with antibacterial metals and beeswax, this innovation could provide healthier, more sustainable living spaces. 

 

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