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Antibacterial Activity of Graphite, Graphite Oxide, Graphene Oxide, and Reduced Graphene Oxide: Membrane and Oxidative Stress

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School of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore 637459
‡ § Center for Excitonics, Research Laboratory of Electronics and §Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, United States
Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology, Singapore 638075
Address correspondence to [email protected]
Cite this: ACS Nano 2011, 5, 9, 6971–6980
Publication Date (Web):August 18, 2011
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society

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    Health and environmental impacts of graphene-based materials need to be thoroughly evaluated before their potential applications. Graphene has strong cytotoxicity toward bacteria. To better understand its antimicrobial mechanism, we compared the antibacterial activity of four types of graphene-based materials (graphite (Gt), graphite oxide (GtO), graphene oxide (GO), and reduced graphene oxide (rGO)) toward a bacterial model—Escherichia coli. Under similar concentration and incubation conditions, GO dispersion shows the highest antibacterial activity, sequentially followed by rGO, Gt, and GtO. Scanning electron microscope (SEM) and dynamic light scattering analyses show that GO aggregates have the smallest average size among the four types of materials. SEM images display that the direct contacts with graphene nanosheets disrupt cell membrane. No superoxide anion (O2•–) induced reactive oxygen species (ROS) production is detected. However, the four types of materials can oxidize glutathione, which serves as redox state mediator in bacteria. Conductive rGO and Gt have higher oxidation capacities than insulating GO and GtO. Results suggest that antimicrobial actions are contributed by both membrane and oxidation stress. We propose that a three-step antimicrobial mechanism, previously used for carbon nanotubes, is applicable to graphene-based materials. It includes initial cell deposition on graphene-based materials, membrane stress caused by direct contact with sharp nanosheets, and the ensuing superoxide anion-independent oxidation. We envision that physicochemical properties of graphene-based materials, such as density of functional groups, size, and conductivity, can be precisely tailored to either reducing their health and environmental risks or increasing their application potentials.

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    Preparation of GO and rGO; characterization of GO samples using Raman spectroscopy and XPS; particle size analysis by dynamic light scattering, control data of cell viability and GSH oxidation experiments; production of superoxide radical anion; comparison of GO and rGO antibacterial activity studies in literatures. This material is available free of charge via the Internet at

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