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Student discovers blackberry antibiotic for multi-resistant pathogens

The number of infections caused by multi-resistant pathogens in hospitals is rising. That’s why researchers are intensely looking for new antibiotics that are effective against the resistant germs. 15-year-old-student Simon Meehan joined the search, and found an antibiotic agent in blackberry plants.

Young researcher Simon Meehan could hardly believe his luck. The 15-year-old Irish student investigated the antimicrobial effects of selected plants on the multi-resistant Staphylococcus bacteria. At the 54th „BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition 2018“ in Dublin, he presented the successful result of his research: an extract from the blackberry plant. It acts as a natural antibiotic against MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Meehan won the BT Young Scientist Prize for the discovery of the blackberry antibiotic.

Combination of knowledge of botany and analytical chemistry

In his project “Investigation into the Antimicrobial effects of both aerial and root parts of selected plants against Staphylococcus,“ Simon Meehan tested plants growing in his garden, including nettles, asparagus, and blackberries. The goal: finding antibacterial substances in plants. Meehan combined his knowledge of botany with microbiology and analytical chemistry. He found out that certain ingredients in the blackberry plant act as an antibiotic against MRSA. Especially in hospitals and clinics, the risk of infection with MRSA is very high, and increasing bacterial multi-resistance to antibiotic treatments is a threat for humans.

Meehan analyzed extracts from stems, leaves, and roots for their antibiotic effect – and he got a positive result. The leaves of the blackberry contain an antimicrobial substance that suppresses the growth of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. The use of naturally growing plants offers the possibility of fighting harmful bacteria with a non-toxic and organic agent. However, Meehan is not seeking economic gain with his project: “This is a lifetime work, but not a money spinner. It is science for science,“ he said in an interview. “This finding is not for own benefit, but for the planet we live on.” The student dedicated his innovative discovery to his grandfather, a plant expert and teacher of natural history. Now it is up to the research community to find out whether and how the plant antibiotic can be used for the benefit of humans.



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