Sharper and Faster “Nano Darts” Kill More Bacteria: A Study of Antibacterial Activity of Individually Dispersed Pristine Single-Walled Carbon Nanotube

To further our understanding on the antibacterial activity of single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), high purity SWCNTs with average diameter of 0.83 nm and (7,5) chirality as dominate (<i>n,m</i>) structure were dispersed in a biocompatible surfactant solution. Ultraviolet−visible−near-infrared radiation absorption spectroscopy was employed to monitor the aggregation of SWCNTs. The results demonstrated that individually dispersed SWCNTs were more toxic than SWCNT aggregates toward bacteria (gram-negative <i>Escherichia coli</i>, <i>Pseudomonas aeruginosa</i>, and gram-positive <i>Staphylococcus aureus</i>, <i>Bacillus subtilis</i>). Individually dispersed SWCNTs can be visualized as numerous moving “nano darts” in the solution, constantly attacking the bacteria; thereby, degrading the bacterial cell integrity and causing the cell death. Controlled experimental results suggested that inhibiting cell growth and oxidative stress were not the major causes responsible for the death of cells. Furthermore, the detrimental effects of Co metal residues (up to 1 μg/mL) on SWCNT samples can be ruled out. Atomic force microscope study conducted in suspension proved that the death rates of bacteria were strongly correlated with their mechanical properties; soft cells were more vulnerable to SWCNT piercing. The antibacterial activity of SWCNTs can be remarkably improved by enhancing the SWCNT physical puncture on bacteria in the following ways: (1) dispersing SWCNTs individually to sharpen the nano darts; (2) increasing SWCNT concentration to raise the population density of nano darts; and (3) elevating the shaking speed of incubation to speed up the nano darts. This study elucidated several factors controlling the antibacterial activity of pristine SWCNTs and it provided an insight in developing strategies that can maximize the SWCNT application potentials while minimizing the health and environment risks.