January 4, 2013 9:30 am
Christmas trees can be recycled to build sand dunes, create fish habitat or be ground up as trail and garden mulch. Now, however, researchers have come up with a new way to put retired holiday firs to use: as sterilization materials for medical equipment on the nano-scale.
Needles from Pseudotsuga menziesii, or the Douglas fir, contain an extract that acts as a natural chemical-reducing agent and converts silver ions, which are commonly used as antimicrobials, to nanoscopic silver particles. In other words, the Christmas tree needles help make the silver particles really, really small.
The medical community still struggles to ensure that biomedical devices, prosthetics and sensors are fully sterilized before use. Despite all we know about sterilization and microbes, pathogens can still sneak onto equipment and cause problems for patients that come into contact with it. The tiny silver particles can be used to safely coat medical implants and surgical devices in order to prevent microbes from colonizing the surface.
The team, based in India, succeeded in generating those particles and coating metals and other material in the sterilizing solution. Though this is only a proof of concept, someday those pesky fallen needles may help save lives—or at least sterilize needles for annual flu shots.
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