Dordick said that this technology has advantages over the use of nanoscale silver, which also has antibacterial properties and is used in products such as washing machines and refrigerators. While nanoscale silver has been debated over concerns to human health and the environment, Dordick said their approach may be safer because the active agent is an enzyme, which does not have any activity against human cells, and the technology does not leach out from the paint or coating.
In their research, they said they were looking for examples in nature where enzymes could be "exploited" to counteract bacteria. They focused on lysostaphin—an enzyme secreted by non-pathogenic Staph strains—which is harmless to humans and other organisms but capable of killing Staph bacteria.
"Lysostaphin is exceptionally selective," Dordick says. "It doesn't work against other bacteria, and it is not toxic to human cells."
"The more the lysostaphin is able to move around, the more it is able to function," Dordick says. The material was successfully tested at Albany Medical College, where another researcher maintained strains of MRSA.
"At the end of the day we have a very selective agent that can be used in a wide range of environments—paints, coating, medical instruments, door knobs, surgical masks—and it's active and stable," Kane says. "It's ready to use when you're ready to use it."