Conducting plastics, such as touchscreens, can control the reproduction of harmful bacteria, scientists in Stockholm have discovered.

Researchers led by Agneta Richter-Dahlfors at the Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Neuroscience found that by adding or removing electrons from the plastic surface of screens, bacteria may be tricked into growing more or less on them.

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The development could have a profound impact in medical settings, as covering instruments and other medical devices with PEDOT conducting plastic (the same material used to make smartphone screens responsive) could control harmful bacteria’s ability to replicate and therefore spread.

The bacteria used in the research was salmonella.

An operating theatre (nimon_t/Getty/PA)

The research team is also looking at future applications of the technology, including integrating it into devices that could be implanted into patients to keep them safe when undergoing medical procedures or having other devices implanted.

Just as growth could be slowed or halted by increasing the electrons on the surface of the plastic, growth of bacteria could also be sped up.

Professor Richter-Dahlfors said: “If we look to industries like wastewater management that need a lot of beneficial biofilms to create clean water, we can produce surfaces that will promote biofilm production.”

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The research is published in the journal Nature.