Researchers believe a plant first used by prehistoric man could help prevent the spread of bacteria, including MRSA, in hospital bed linen.
They found that fibres from the common flax plant can kill bacteria efficiently when treated with special light-sensitive dyes and exposed to red light.
Academics at the University of Brighton found that flax absorbs some light-sensitive dyes with a greater capacity than the most commonly used material, cotton. After stimulation with red light, the dyes produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) that kill bacteria.
The ROS attacks bacteria in a number of ways meaning that it is less likely to build up resistance, unlike with treatment by antibiotics.
An early test of the new anti-MRSA device halted an outbreak of the superbug in a special care baby unit at the Rosie Hospital in Cambridge.
The "black box" combines sophisticated DNA profiling and database analysis which allows it to identify and target the path of the infection and cut it off.
In the test of the new device a team was quickly able to confirm that 10 babies were part of an MRSA outbreak involving a previously unknown strain of the bug. Swab tests of parents and visitors showed the bacteria had spread outside the hospital into the community.
The outbreak was contained but two months later a new infection was identified in the unit.
DNA sequencing showed it was caused by the same strain identified earlier and was carried to the ward by one of 154 screened health care workers.
Scientists are working on developing a simple system which could end MRSA outbreaks from spreading.
In an early test of the technology, researchers halted an outbreak of MRSA in a special care baby unit at the Rosie Hospital in Cambridge, by identifying the bacterial strains from their genetic codes before targeting the transmission path of the infection and cutting it off.
The device, which combines sophisticated DNA profiling and database analysis, could be available within "a few years", say scientists.
It is believed to be the first time DNA sequencing has been used to contain an infectious disease outbreak at a hospital.
The scientists are now developing the concept into a simple system that can be used routinely by hospital staff.