Muck may prove potential rival to penicillin

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London, Oct 28 (UNI) Scientists have discovered a new and highly effective weapon against deadly superbugs like the MRSA -- green French muck.

Deaths due to Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a strain of bacteria resistant to antibiotics, has increased sharply in Britain since the early 1990's from less than a 100 annually to more than 1,600 in 2005.

The dramatic antibiotic success of agricur, a clay made from ancient volcanic ash found near the Massif Central, marks it out as a potential rival to penicillin, the wonder drug of the 20th century.

In experiments, the clay killed up to 99 per cent of superbug colonies within 24 hours. The clay has a similar effect on other deadly bacteria tested, including salmonella, E. coli, and a flesh-eating disease called buruli, a relative of leprosy which disfigures children across central and western Africa.

Some bacteria have grown resistance to a spectrum of drugs. As a result, the developed world is starting to see the return of diseases, such as tuberculosis, that had been all but wiped out a few decades ago.

Scientists have been searching for new antibiotics like penicillin and methicillin but until now have had only limited success. Agricur's discovery could lead to a whole class of antibiotics to which bugs such as MRSA have no resistance, according to scientists.

Dr Lynda Williams and Dr Shelley Haydel of Arizona State University will present the results of their research on agricur and other clays to the Geological Society of America's annual meeting in Denver tomorrow.

''We have found several antibacterial clays,'' Dr Williams, a mineralogist who is trying to work out the chemicals that make them special, was quoted by the Independent as saying.

''We have multiple working hypotheses. Our primary hypothesis is that the clay minerals transfer elements, not yet identified, to the bacteria that impede their metabolic function,'' she said.

''It is entirely possible that it is not one single element that is toxic to the bacteria, but a combination of elements and chemical conditions that attack the bacteria from different angles so as to overwhelm their defence systems,'' she Dr Williams added.

Clay has long been used as a health treatment in spas, but that is because it holds heat longer than water, and draws toxins out of the skin. Clay is also sometimes eaten as a folk remedy for nausea.

The effectiveness of the French green clays, which are mostly made of minerals called smectite and illite, was first demonstrated by Line Brunet de Courssou, a French doctor fighting buruli at clinics in Ivory Coast and Guinea.

UNI

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