Ever wondered what else could be done with your discarded Christmas tree? How about sterilizing medical implants?

For real.

Research is under way testing the use of pine needle extract in a coating to protect medical bio-devices from bacteria when implanted. Infections are a chronic problem with implants because the devices are made up partly of plastics. Plastic is like Velcro for germs.

“The only thing bacteria love more than human skin is plastic,” said Michael Schmidt, vice chairman of the microbiology and immunology department at the Medical University of South Carolina.

A major component of pine needles is turpentine, toxic enough to kill about anything, Schmidt said. In the research at the Motilal Nehru National Institute of Technology in Allahabad, India, pine needle extract is mixed with silver to provide a coating for the devices that resists bacteria.

Silver, it turns out, also is pretty toxic. The term “blue bloods” for the wealthy came from the use of pure silver utensils, which turned their skin blue, Schmidt said.

So the researcher’s idea is that a little of both is less toxic than either one.

“They’re playing the game of ‘what does not kill you makes you stronger,’ ” he said.

Poushpi Dwivedi of the research team in India put it more delicately in a news release: “The size and percentage of the particles produced can be easily controlled,” she said.

The research is great news with great potential, Schmidt said. “But they have a lot of ‘heavy lifting’ left to do” to demonstrate it’s both safe and effective.

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