IBM's "Polymer Ninjas" Are Like Chuck Norris With a Gun

There's an arms race going on between antibiotics and bacteria, and bacteria are winning.

By Evan Ackerman
|  Tuesday, Jul 3, 2012  |  Updated 9:40 AM PDT
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IBM's "Polymer Ninjas" Are Like Chuck Norris With a Gun

IBM is trying to do something about the bacteria war.

There's an arms race going on between antibiotics and bacteria, and bacteria are winning. They've got evolution on their side, and there's a blajillion of them. IBM has been fighting back with bacteria-targeting "polymer ninjas," and they're poised to go beyond medicine and into consumer products.

The big problem bacteria for hospitals at the moment is called MRSA, which is a type of staph that's resistant to a bunch of different kinds of antibiotics. It spreads easily and it's hard to kill off, primarily because we've killed off so much of it that the only MRSA left is the kind that would laugh in the face of penicillin, if penicillin had a face. We need a new strategy, and that's where polymer ninjas come in. And Chuck Norris.

Imagine that these bacteria are actually a horde of evil minions of evil, and being evil minions of evil, they know all kinds of evil martial arts. Conventional antibiotics are like sending in Chuck Norris: yeah, he can kick some ass, but sooner or later Chuck Norris is gonna run into an evil Bruce Lee and Bruce'll take him down:

Obviously, this is bad for Chuck Norris, because even if Chuck Norris takes down everybody besides Bruce Lee, then all that's left is Bruce Lee, and you're even wore off than you were before.

Basically, what IBM is doing here is like just giving Chuck Norris a gun. When Chuck Norris has a gun, it doesn't matter how masterful evil Bruce Lee is at Jeet Kune Do, because Chuck Norris can just shoot him. And even if evil Bruce Lee gets ten times better at Jeet Kune Do, well, Chuck Norris can still just shoot him. This is what's going on with IBM's polymer ninjas: the bacteria don't even get a chance to show off their multi-drug resistances, because the ninjas just get right in there and physically shred them by attaching to their bacterial membranes and causing them to rupture.

Besides being absolutely brutal to bacteria, these ninja polymers also exhibit two other ninja-like qualities: they're honorable enough to leave all the good guys alone and only target harmful bacteria (through electrostatic attraction), and when they've accomplished their mission, they disappear, biodegrading into nothingness.

IBM says that their polymer ninjas have lots of applications beyond targeted MRSA elimination, and it's looking to expand the technology to everything from personal hygiene items to dish soap. Check out the video below for a soothing explanation of how the polymer ninjas do their thing.

Via IBM Research

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