Volcanic deposits studied for antibiotic use

It is the “big problem” that is currently on the United Nations’ World Health Organization’s (WHO) mind. The threat to public health, which could have “devastating” implications, has combined data from 114 countries to create a report that may change our world.

“The world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health security said in a report.

This global antibiotic resistance is alarming, and many scientists and researchers are rising to the occasion to try to combat the issue. One solution to the so-called superbugs may not be hidden in science, but rather within the earth.

Researchers from Arizona State University (ASU) may have found the answer within rock fields. Lynda Williams, a biogeochemist, and Keith Morrison of ASU have incubated common pathogens, such as E. coli and Staphylococcus epidermis, with clays from areas within a volcanic deposit in Oregon.

E. coli

E. coli

These naturally-occurring clays within the earth have a rapid uptake of iron-impaired bacterial metabolism. When the clay’s cells were flooded with this extra iron, the proteins were able to kill off the bacteria.

Their findings were recently published in Environmental Geochemistry and Health, where they say: “The ability of antibacterial clays to buffer pH also appears key to their healing potential and viability as alternatives to conventional antibiotics.”

The clay was taken from a deposit from volcanoes that were active over hundreds of thousands of years. The Crater Lake region in question was covered in ash from these volcanoes, which may be as old as 20 to 30 million years old. More recent eruptions, throughout the past 70,000 years, have produced “silica-rich magmas and hydrothermal waters that may have contributed to the Oregon’s deposit’s antibacterial properties,” an article on Phys.org said.

Of the varieties of clay found there, it is the blue variety that was the most powerful against E. coli and S. epidermis. The white clay was also shown to be effective, but the red clays didn’t have an antimicrobial effect.

Staphylococcus aureus

Staphylococcus aureus

“We can use this information to propose the medicinal application of certain natural clays, especially in wound healing,” Williams said. “Antibacterial clays can buffer wounds to a low [more acidic] pH. The clays may shift the wound environment to a pH range that favors healing, while killing invading bacteria.”

The clay in the Oregon deposit isn’t just effective against E. coli and S. epidermis. Clay from that region were also proven active against several other forms of bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and extended-spectrum beta-lactamase-resistant E. coli (ESBL).

For more information on the study, click here.

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