Bees versus the super bugs

Tuesday 21 June 2011, 12:18

Martin Aaron Martin Aaron

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Bee-keepers could hold the key to new superbug treatments in their back gardens.

Cardiff University and the National Botanic Garden of Wales are appealing for help in building up a DNA profile of the nation's honey.

They hope to use the information to identify plants which could fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as the 'superbug' MRSA. The honey project could also help fight the diseases currently attacking Britain's bees.

Honeys have long been known to have anti-bacterial properties and are used in wound dressings today. Different honeys act against different microbes depending on the chemicals in the plants visited by bees.

Now the Welsh School of Pharmacy at Cardiff University and the National Botanic Garden of Wales are asking honey-makers across the country to send them samples, along with a list of plants near their beehives.

A screening test developed at Cardiff will test for activity against two of the most common hospital-acquired infections, the bacteria MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

The honey project could help fight the diseases currently attacking Britain's bees.

The honey project could help fight the diseases attacking Britain's bees.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales will identify the plants which contributed to the most powerful honeys, using a DNA profiling process being developed as an application of their Barcode Wales project, which has DNA barcoded the flowering plants of Wales.

The team will then investigate the plants found in the honey for the potential to develop new drugs.

The joint University and Garden team, who are supported by the Society for Applied Microbiology, will also be looking for honeys which help bees resist pests and bugs.

In particular, they will test for resistance to the Varroa mite, which has caused a rapid decline in the UK bee population, and the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae, responsible for American Foulbrood, which is one of the most destructive of all bee diseases.

Bee pollination is worth an estimated £100m to British agriculture every year, and it is vital to halt the fall in bee numbers.

Dr Natasha de Vere, National Botanic Garden of Wales, said: "We have nearly completed our Barcode Wales project to DNA barcode each of the 1143 flowering plants in Wales and are excited to be developing our first applications that use this fantastic resource.

We can see which honeys have the best results against infectious diseases that affect humans and bees and use DNA barcoding to identify the plants making the honey."

Anyone who wants to contribute their honey to the research project should send a 200 gram pot with their address, postcode, and details of the plants their bees feed on to:

Jenny Hawkins, Welsh School of Pharmacy, Cardiff University, Redwood Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3NB.

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