Leptospermum close-up of flowers

Excerpts from an interview with Shona Blair on ‘Catalyst’ program ABC TV

Shona Blair believes she has discovered the mechanism of how honey attacks bacteria so effectively.

She’s studied a particularly potent form of medicinal honey made by bees using Leptospermum, or jelly bush flowers from Northern NSW and a related plant known as Manuka in New Zealand.

Shona found that even the notorious Golden Staph is helpless against the raw power of this honey. Most incredibly, bacteria don’t seem to become resistant to Leptospermum honey. Shona tried a different approach to investigating the effects of honey on  bacteria. She looked at the effects on the bacteria’s own genes, when the bacteria (E. coli) where exposed  to Leptospermum honey. She then looked at which genes where turned on or off in response to exposure to active honey.

She found that not only did the medical honey attack the bacteria, it attacked it on a multi faceted level. More than 100 genes are affected by the honey, 70 genes increase their activity as if they are trying to fight an acid attack.  20 genes actually decreased their activity, disabling the reproductive capacity of the bacteria. It’s the first time anybody has had any idea on how honey kills bacteria.

Shona Blair:
‘I looked at all the different genes. About 70 that were up-regulated, which means they were turned on more by this honey and about 40 that were down-regulated so they were actually suppressed by the honey.’

‘This is the first time anyone has been able to show how this honey kills bacteria. The honey was turning off the genes that allow the bacteria to reproduce. But the honey also seemed to be activating huge numbers of the bacteria’s defence genes. It was like nothing Shona had seen before; the bacteria was acting like it was under attack from a whole range of assailants from acid, to salt and heat. The honey was overwhelming the bacteria by attacking it on so many levels at once. ‘

So rather than one component causing one effect, honey is launching a multi-pronged attack on the bacteria. And it’s this overwhelming assault that could explain why bacteria don’t seem to be able to become resistant to honey.

Shona also mentioned that there’s been no evidence to show that organisms develop resistance to honey. In fact they had  done experiments trying to the organisma resistant to the honey and so far this has been unsuccessful.

Shona Blair  ‘The interesting thing about the honey is it actually seems to stimulate wounds to heal as well, and no other topical antimicrobial agent does that.’

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