Ions, not particles, make silver toxic to bacteria

Rice University researchers report too small a dose may enhance microbes’ immunity 

Rice University researchers have settled a long-standing controversy over the mechanism by which silver nanoparticles, the most widely used nanomaterial in the world, kill bacteria. Their work comes with a Nietzsche-esque warning: Use enough. If you don’t kill them, you make them stronger.

Silver ions delivered by nano-particles to bacteria promote lysis, the process by which cells break down and ultimately die, which makes silver nano-particles a superior and widely used antibacterial agent.

New research by Rice University found that silver ions, not the particles themselves, are toxic to bacteria. They also found that ligands in the vicinity of a bacteria can bind silver ions, preventing them from reaching their target. Scientists have long known that silver ions, which flow from nano-particles when oxidized, are deadly to bacteria.

Silver nanoparticles are used just about everywhere, including in cosmetics, socks, food containers, detergents, sprays and a wide range of other products to stop the spread of germs.

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