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Common Weed In Florida Fights Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs Without Killing Bacteria

10 February 2017, 10:01 pm EST By Allan Adamson Tech Times
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The red berries of the Brazilian peppertree, a noxious weed in Florida, contain compounds that can disarm potentially deadly bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. What makes the plant a good tool for fighting superbugs?  ( Emory University )

The Brazilian peppertree is a noxious weed particularly common in Florida, but its red berries contain extract that can fight against deadly superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.

Brazilian Peppertree

The Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolia), also known as the Florida holly and broad leaf peppertree, has been used for hundreds of years by traditional healers in the Amazon to treat skin and soft tissue infections.

The plant is native to South America, but it has spread to the U.S. particularly in Alabama, Texas, Georgia, California, and Florida, where the weed flourishes very well homeowners turn to Roundup and weedkillers to eliminate them.

Now researchers found that the invasive plant could be a tool for fighting antibiotic resistance.

In a new study, Cassandra Quave, from Emory's Center for the Study of Human Health, and colleagues found that the plant has the power to treat potentially deadly infections such as the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Superbug Resistant To Antibiotics

About 2 percent of all healthy people carry the MRSA bacteria in their body, where it can live harmlessly, but when MRSA causes infections, it can release toxins, blast open red blood cells, and tear skin cells apart. Infection can be tough to treat since the bacteria is resistant to the most commonly used antibiotics.

Researchers likewise discovered that the berries do not actually kill the bacteria but only stop them from doing harm. Refined flavone compounds present in the berries repress the genes that allow the bacteria cells to communicate with each other. Blocking these signals prevent the cells from taking collective action.

"It essentially disarms the MRSA bacteria, preventing it from excreting the toxins it uses as weapons to damage tissues," Quave said.

Potential Solution To Antibiotic Resistance

The mechanism called quorum quenching potentially provides doctors with a good tool for beating infections such as those acquired through surgery and pneumonia since the compounds from the peppertree berries leave the helpful bacteria intact instead of weakening a person's whole immune system, giving it a better chance to heal wounds.

Earlier this year, a woman in Nevada died due to an infection resistant to 26 antibiotics.

Treating deadly bacteria using drugs that kill them actually helps drive the problem of antibiotic resistance. Some of the stronger bacteria that survive the drugs designed to eliminate them proliferate and pass their genes, which can lead to the evolution of fatal superbugs.

Does Not Harm Skin Tissue And Good Bacteria

The new study, which was published in the journal Scientific Reports on Feb. 10, found that the Peppertree flavone rich extract "430D-F5" does not harm the skin tissue of mice nor the normal and healthy bacteria present on the skin.

"430D-F5 was well tolerated by human keratinocytes in cell culture and mouse skin in vivo; it also demonstrated significant reduction in dermonecrosis following skin challenge with a virulent strain of MRSA," the researchers wrote.

"This study provides an explanation for the anti-infective activity of peppertree remedies and yields insight into the potential utility of non-biocide virulence inhibitors in treating skin infections."

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