Innovation Watch: Weaponising Oxygen

As antibiotic-resistant bacteria increase scientists are looking for new ways to treat illness. One study suggests that we could weaponise the very thing that gives us life: oxygen. The method uses light to activate oxygen and turn it into a type of cell that attacks bacteria. Woah. Deep breath. (Or maybe not!?)

With all the issues hospitals have to deal with, super-bacteria called MRSA is perhaps one of the most dangerous. It spreads quickly and is resistant to antibiotic treatment. Its an issue that has been puzzling scientists for several years and they’re now making advances in a new technique that side-steps having to use antibiotics altogether. Well done them.

This new method uses light to activate the destructive force of oxygen, which then wipes out pesky antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Project lead Peng Zhang, Ph.D., explains. “We use photosensitizers, mostly dye molecules, that become excited when illuminated with light. Then, the photosensitizers convert oxygen into reactive oxygen species that attack the bacteria.”

Essentially the process turns oxygen into bacteria assassins. The technique has been experimented with before but this is the first time the process has been able to destroy enough microorganisms to effectively shake off infections.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, the process is in its infancy. It’s probably going to be a little while before we’re oxygen-zapping people at the big expos to stop coughs and colds spreading. But, as we’re just coming out of university ‘Freshers’ week, we feel there could be a brilliant marketing opportunity for using the method to eradicate the notorious ‘Freshers Flu’ that happens when students from across the country come together. But until then, just keep washing your hands.