Berries Against Bacteria

By Leili Najmabadi

Deep in the forests of the Amazon, lie a species of red berries capable of weakening antibiotic-resistant bacteria. These berries grow on the Brazilian peppertree and though they have been cherished by local medicinal healers, they have only recently been discovered by Emory University’s team of scientists. While being native to South America, the peppertree, Schinus terebinthifolia, is also found in southern states as well as California in the United States. By analyzing their chemical composition, Emory University’s Cassandra Quave was able to find that the berries’ consisted heavily of flavone. Due to the berries common use by traditional healers to treat skin and tissue infections, the extract created was therefore tested among mice with MRSA bacteria (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus auereus) to prevent skin lesions. The berries’ extract participates in “quorum quenching”, meaning that it halts communication between cells in the bacteria so that they cannot perform their desired function of harming the organism. Without the bacteria being able to transmit toxic material, the maintenance of the untouched immune system can continue to thrive. The mice’s tissues and healthy bacteria are not harmed during treatment.

Since the plant is a weed, it overshadows native species through chemical advantages. These advantages make them an eminent candidate for improving the growing international antibiotic-resistance issue. Quave urges to use anti-virulence mechanisms instead of bombarding bacteria with heavy drugs that they can become resistant to. This threat to worldwide health has caused concern in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations. Currently, antibiotic-resistant infections are the cause of death for 700,000 people worldwide and 23,000 people in the U.S. alone. Scientists are hopeful that the research on the Brazilian peppertree’s berries will help to reduce the estimated 10 million annual deaths by 2050 as a result of these infections.

 

Emory Health Sciences. "Brazilian peppertree packs power to knock out antibiotic-resistant bacteria: Amazon traditional healers have used the plant for centuries to treat infections." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 February 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170210084534.htm>.