By Merrin Fabre

Whilst some bacteria can provide health benefits there are others that can do annoying things – like kill you. So in order to save ourselves we should probably kill them first.

So, stand aside bacterial wipes, hand sanitisers and antiseptic sprays there is a new bug zapper in town.

Bring in the plasma flashlight – a torch that emits a plasma jet that kills bacteria on the skin in an instant. Developed by a group of Chinese and Australian scientists, including CSIRO, the flashlight is completely mobile, light, efficient, and works at room temperature.

The plasma bacteria zapper.

Due to its mobility it could be used in ambulance emergency calls, natural disaster sites, military combat operations and many other instances where treatment is required in remote locations.

Kostya Ostrikov from CSIRO was one of the researchers working on the flashlight.

“‘The plasma flashlight is an exciting development in potential health treatments,” Kostya said. “It not only inactivates individual bacterial cells but also bacterial biofilms.”

Biofilms are multilayered bacterial colonies which can give the bacterium addition resistance. The plasma flashlight effectively inactivated a thick biofilm of one of the most antibiotic and heat-resistant bacteria, Enterococcus faecalis – a bacterium which often infects the root canals during dental treatments.

“We used an extreme example to demonstrate that the plasma flashlight can be very effective even at room temperature,” Kostya said. ” For individual bacteria, the inactivation time could be just tens of seconds.”

“There is potential for this device to be used to kill pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, spores or fungi.

“It can then be used to clean and sterilise medical equipment and wounds. It could also be used for plasma-assisted coagulation to help heal wounds, plus it could be used to treat cancers such as skin cancer.”

But it doesn’t have to be restricted to medical use.

“This device could be miniaturised and used in hygiene treatments such as toothbrushes or chopping boards in the kitchen,” Kostya said.

One day you could be zapping your bacteria away with your very own plasma toothbrush.

MEDIA: Media contacts – CSIRO