Email Print Share
July 30, 2020

Wrap, Trap and Zap

A shield of graphene-wrapped nanospheres can help particles destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria and free-floating antibiotic-resistant genes in wastewater treatment plants. The innovation comes from researchers in the NSF Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Nantechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems (NEWT), based at Rice University, together with researchers at Tongji University.

Credit: National Science Foundation/Karson Productions

Resistance fighters.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

(Sound effect: water sounds) If you're like me, when it comes to thinking about wastewater treatment, it's pretty much, out of sight, out of mind. But researchers have been working on a solution to a wastewater issue since they first brought it to the surface in 2013. They're part of 'NEWT' -- an engineering research center exploring use of nanotechnology to improve water treatment.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria breed in wastewater treatment plants. When they're killed, they release antibiotic resistance genes that in reservoirs and storage tanks can later transform harmless bacteria into drug-resistant superbugs.

Collaborating with a team at Tongji (tone-jee) University, the researchers developed a way to destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and free-floating resistance genes, in treatment plants -- before the water gets released.

They created tiny nanospheres -- from bismuth, oxygen and carbon and made them three times more efficient by wrapping them in a graphene shell.

Part of a strategy the team calls, "Wrap, Trap and Zap." Light activated, the spheres capture and kill bacteria and degrade the resistant genes -- before they can contaminate the water. The outer wrapping gives them more time to work and makes the spheres re-usable.

Better wastewater treatment? It's a wrap.

"The discovery files" covers projects funded by the government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you, by you! Learn more at or on our podcast.

Images and other media in the National Science Foundation Multimedia Gallery are available for use in print and electronic material by NSF employees, members of the media, university staff, teachers and the general public. All media in the gallery are intended for personal, educational and nonprofit/non-commercial use only.

Images credited to the National Science Foundation, a federal agency, are in the public domain. The images were created by employees of the United States Government as part of their official duties or prepared by contractors as "works for hire" for NSF. You may freely use NSF-credited images and, at your discretion, credit NSF with a "Courtesy: National Science Foundation" notation.

Additional information about general usage can be found in Conditions.