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Ancient Irish Healing Soil Kills Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria
by Andrea D. SteffenFebruary 5, 2019
The area of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, which is known as the Boho Highlands, contains very special ancient soil known for thousands of years to have medicinal benefits. There, one can find alkaline grassland and soil that is reputed to have healing properties.
In ancient times, the people had a tradition of taking a small amount of this soil and wrapping it up in cotton cloth to use on people. This wrap was used to cure many ailments including toothache, throat and neck infections. The region where this soil is found was previously occupied by the Druids, around 1500 years ago, and the Neolithic people around 4000 years ago.
Today, the search for replacement antibiotics to combat multi-resistance has prompted researchers to explore new sources, including folk medicines: a field of study known as ethnopharmacology. This search has led a team of scientists to Ireland in search of this ancient healing soil.
These researchers are focusing on environments where well-known antibiotic producers like Streptomyces can be found and that Irish region is exactly that. The one that led the team of researchers to this location was Dr. Gerry Quinn, a previous resident of Boho, County Fermanagh, who had been aware of the healing traditions of the area for many years.
Upon analysis of the soil, they discovered that it contains a previously unknown strain of bacteria which is effective against four of the top six superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA. The new strain of bacteria was discovered by a team based in Swansea University Medical School, made up of researchers from Wales, Brazil, Iraq and Northern Ireland. Their study and findings were published in Frontiers in Microbiology.
They have named the new strain Streptomyces sp. myrophorea. They called it this because it produces a distinctive fragrance similar to that of oil of wintergreen. Streptomyces are true bacteria. They are the source of two-thirds of the various frontline antibiotics used in medicine. It is not yet clear which component of the new strain prevents the growth of the pathogens. The team is in the process of investigating this.
The main findings of the research, according to Phys.org, were that the newly identified strain of Streptomyces:
- Inhibited the growth of four of the top six multi-resistant pathogens identified by the WHO as being responsible for healthcare-associated infections: Vancomycin resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Klebsiella pneumonia, and Carbenepenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumanii.
- Inhibited both gram positive and gram negative bacteria, which differ in the structure of their cell wall; usually gram negative bacteria are more resistant to antibiotics
“Zone of inhibition produced by Streptomyces sp myrophorea on a lawn of MRSA. The bacteria is the brown spot, and the lighter color around the spot shows that it is inhibiting the spread of the MRSA which is surrounding it.” Credit: G Quinn, Swansea University
Professor Paul Dyson of Swansea University Medical School says:
“THIS NEW STRAIN OF BACTERIA IS EFFECTIVE AGAINST 4 OF THE TOP 6 PATHOGENS THAT ARE RESISTANT TO ANTIBIOTICS, INCLUDING MRSA. OUR DISCOVERY IS AN IMPORTANT STEP FORWARD IN THE FIGHT AGAINST ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE. OUR RESULTS SHOW THAT FOLKLORE AND TRADITIONAL MEDICINES ARE WORTH INVESTIGATING IN THE SEARCH FOR NEW ANTIBIOTICS. SCIENTISTS, HISTORIANS AND ARCHAEOLOGISTS CAN ALL HAVE SOMETHING TO CONTRIBUTE TO THIS TASK. IT SEEMS THAT PART OF THE ANSWER TO THIS VERY MODERN PROBLEM MIGHT LIE IN THE WISDOM OF THE PAST.”
Dr. Gerry Quinn from the research team says:
“THE DISCOVERY OF ANTIMICROBIAL SUBSTANCES FROM STREPTOMYCES SP.MYROPHOREA WILL HELP IN OUR SEARCH FOR NEW DRUGS TO TREAT MULTI-RESISTANT BACTERIA, THE CAUSE OF MANY DANGEROUS AND LETHAL INFECTIONS. WE WILL NOW CONCENTRATE ON THE PURIFICATION AND IDENTIFICATION OF THESE ANTIBIOTICS. WE HAVE ALSO DISCOVERED ADDITIONAL ANTIBACTERIAL ORGANISMS FROM THE SAME SOIL CURE WHICH MAY COVER A BROADER SPECTRUM OF MULTI-RESISTANT PATHOGENS.”
This is all exciting news because the truth is, antibiotic-resistant superbugs have become a major threat to humanity. They predict it could kill up to 1.3 million people in Europe by 2050, according to recent research. The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes the problem as ‘one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.’