Scientists say they have developed a way to kill only the harmful bacteria present in Escherichia coli, leaving the “good” bacteria that help strengthen and protect our immune system to do their job. This is according to a study published in the journal Applied Catalysis B: Environmental.

It is well known that infection and disease can be caused by exposure to viruses, bacteria and fungi. These contain harmful microorganisms that can lead a person to suffer severe illnesses, such as food poisoning, enteritis and urinary tract infections.

However, the body also contains helpful microorganisms. These play a part in the digestion of food, help build the immune system and can protect against the attack of bad microorganisms.

But the study researchers from Korea say that current treatment for infections, such as the use of antibiotics or disinfectants, often kill both good and bad microorganisms, as they are unable to latch onto a specific target.

However, the investigators say they have now developed a technique that is able to target and kill only the bad microorganisms found in E. coli bacteria.

The new method involves a combination of the E. coli antibody (polyclonal antibody) and a catalyst known as titanium oxide – a compound with antibacterial properties that can increase the rate of chemical reaction.

Within the first 15 minutes of this combination being activated, the researchers say around 90% of E. coli was killed. Furthermore, it was found that three other bacteria that were measured throughout this process were left untouched.

The investigators say their findings indicate there is potential to combine catalysts, such as titanium oxides, with other antibodies specific to certain bacteria, in order to combat infection and disease without disrupting good microorganisms in the body.

Dr. David Brown, chief executive of the Institution of Chemical Engineers, who was not involved in the study, says this research will be of great interest to chemical engineers working within the pharmaceutical industry.

He notes that titanium oxide has many interesting properties and is already widely used by chemical engineers in some products including paint, sunscreen and food coloring.

He adds:

The research also has the potential to influence public health policy in response to continuing concerns about the over-prescription of antibiotics and resistance to antibiotics by sections of the population.

A more sophisticated management of harmful microorganisms and targeted use of antibiotics could overcome some of these problems as well as improving general health.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that good gut bacteria can boost the effect of chemotherapy drugs on the immune system.