A long-forgotten recipe against super-microbes
Medieval drug helped against antibiotic-resistant bacteria
The mixture, created according to the old English clinic of the IX century, destroyed up to 90 percent of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus – one of the antibiotic-resistant strains of this bacterium that causes barley in the eyes. New Scientist (Anglo Saxon remedy kills hospital superbug MRSA) reports on how doctors managed to recreate and experimentally test an ancient medicine.
The idea of the project was born out of conversations between microbiologist Freya Harrison and a historian, a specialist in medieval England. They decided to test in practice the recipe from the Balda's Leechbook. It sounds like this: "take leeks and garlic in equal quantities, mix well... take wine and bile of a young bull, mix with leeks... and let it settle in a copper vessel for nine days."
Image: British Library Royal / Wikipedia.org
The most difficult thing was to find authentic ingredients: even the most primitive varieties of onions and garlic differ from medieval ones. The wine was taken vintage, from a winery in the south of England, whose owners make a drink according to old recipes. It was not difficult to find bile: now bile acid salts of cows are produced as a dietary supplement for patients who have had their gallbladder removed. Instead of expensive copper vessels, glass bottles covered with a layer of copper from the inside were used.
Nine days later, the drug killed all the soil bacteria that got into it from onions and garlic. "The mixture began to disinfect itself. It was the first hint that our crazy idea would work," said Harrison.
Then the drug was tested on fragments of the skin of mice infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This strain of bacteria in humans causes barley in the eyes – and the ancient medicine killed 90 percent of pathogenic microorganisms. The same effect was given only by the antibiotic vancomycin – the main drug used in the treatment of MRSA.
To the surprise of scientists, the ingredients of the drug gave the desired effect only together. It is not yet clear whether they enhance each other, or trigger the synthesis of new compounds with antibacterial action. In addition, British scientists were lucky – attempts by American specialists to create an antimicrobial agent according to the same recipe in 2005 ended in failure.
Garrison hopes that the ancient remedy may be useful in the treatment of skin infections caused by MRSA (for example, leg ulcers in diabetics). She will talk about her discovery at the conference of the British Society of General Microbiology, which takes place on March 30 – April 02 in Birmingham.
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