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Replacing "Mr. Clean"

Replacing "Mr. Clean"A Tufts professor's new idea may change the way people fight germs.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.23.01] As worries about the spread of harmful bacteria grow, solutions to "cleaner" lives have taken a variety of forms, including antibacterial soaps, sprays and sponges. While they promise to kill germs, all rely on the consumer to make them part of their daily cleaning routine. But a new idea from a Tufts biochemistry professor may completely change the way people fight germs, marking the other products obsolete.

What started as a fantasy for Tufts' Kim Lewis, is one step closer to reality. This week, Lewis and his colleagues from MIT announced that they had developed a surface coating that kills bacteria on contact.

"We decided that we will design a surface that will be permanently sterile," Lewis told National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

According to NPR, Lewis' idea was to create a polymer coating, which is composed of a microscopic "fuzz" of tiny threads with poison tips. While they are harmless to humans, the tiny tips are deadly to bacteria, killing the germs on contact.

The result: "In theory, the surface is permanently antiseptic."

The solution has a distinct advantage over the antibacterial products already on the market. "Our invention is not a liquid -- our invention is the material itself, which has the antiseptic physically attached to it," Lewis told NPR. "We realized that it's easier to modify the surface than to ask people to change their behavior."

The new product could have a wide range of applications, from hospital operating rooms to kitchen counters. It may even be used to permanently disinfect bowling balls.

But Lewis said he'll leave it to industry to develop new uses for his research.

"We did not envision a bowling alley, I must tell you, when we were kicking around the idea," he told NPR's national audience.

Right now, Lewis is confident that bacteria will not become resistant to the polymer. "We thought it would be exceedingly difficult for bacteria to figure out a way around this," he said.

While he noted that "the bacteria might surprise us," Lewis told "All Things Considered" that he "cannot envision a mechanism that will protect against this."

Which may mean that consumers will have a powerful new tool to fight germs.

As the Dayton Daily News reported, " Mr. Clean may give way to Mr. Polymer."

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