Ninja were stealthy warriors in Japanese history who were often given the charge of infiltrating and assassinating enemies. Ninja particles do pretty much the same thing: attack and kill.
Created and named by researchers from IBM and Singapore's Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, these minuscule attackers may solve two issues that plague modern medicine: antibiotic-resistant bacteria and biofilms. On the first front, half of the hospitalized patients in the United States suffer from hospital-acquired infection with drug-resistant bacteria, according to some estimates, and the infections from these bacteria are becoming increasingly harder to treat [source: Liu]. Superbugs, like infection-causing methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli, have evolved a resistance to traditional antibiotics. As a result, scientists and doctors are being forced to seek alternative treatment options to kill these bacteria. Second, the biofilms that form on the surfaces of medical devices also pose a huge problem. As these bacteria-ridden gunky substances coat catheters and other medical implants, the devices become a vehicle to carry bacteria into the body.
Enter the ninja particle. In classic ninja style, these tiny particles (1,000 times smaller than a grain of sand!) may one day be able to infiltrate the body, hunt down the offending bacterium and kill it in a way that leaves the microbe looking as if it's been attacked with a ninja star. Like its namesake, this particle is good at its job. It zeros in on its target and manages to leave other cells unharmed. The particles are equally skilled at wiping out biofilms that form on surfaces, making these petite ninjas forces to be reckoned with.
Keep reading to learn more about how these particles fought their way into the lab and what they can do for us.