Bacteria in Bees Could Fight Antibacterial Resistance

David Illig via flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

With antibiotic resistance on the rise, alternative methods for fighting pathogens are in high demand, even if it means going back to basics. Honey has been used to treat wounds for thousands of years, long before microorganisms had been discovered. Recently, researchers have identified 13 lactic acid bacteria (LAB) found within raw honey from different bee species that have effectively treated some of the most antimicrobial-resistant pathogens afflicting humans today. The research was led by Tobias Olofsson of Lund University and the paper was published in the International Wound Journal

Honey that is sold commercially has typically been exposed to heat, pasteurization, and processing in order to kill any yeast and prevent fermentation. While this treatment that makes the honey safer and more shelf-stable, it also gets rid of the honey’s benefits, including antimicrobial and antihistamine properties. Raw, unrefined honey that has the most benefits will come directly from beekeepers, though some specialty shops may have it available.

Olofsson’s team tested raw honey’s mettle against antimicrobial-resistant pathogens including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE). They discovered that while the 13 LAB work individually, they also produced additional antibacterial compounds when combined. The LAB mixture was able to curb all 14 bacterial strains used in the study.

In addition to killing pathogens in the lab, the team also used the LAB mixture on horses who had experienced chronic wounds that have not responded to conventional treatments. All ten horses who received the mixture topically experienced wound healing.

"Antibiotics are mostly one active substance, effective against only a narrow spectrum of bacteria,” commented Olofsson in a statement. “When used alive, these 13 lactic acid bacteria produce the right kind of antimicrobial compounds as needed, depending on the threat. It seems to have worked well for millions of years of protecting bees' health and honey against other harmful microorganisms. However, since store-bought honey doesn't contain the living lactic acid bacteria, many of its unique properties have been lost in recent times.” 

The researchers will continue to study raw honey, in hopes of identifying all of the possible clinical uses for the antibacterial properties. Fresh honey can be found pretty much all over the world, which would be a fantastic option for those living in developed or remote areas where healthcare is minimally available. Additionally, this approach could potentially be integrated into medical facilities as a treatment for those facing drug-resistant pathogens.

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