[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 30-Jun-2010
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Contact: Cody Mooneyhan
cmooneyhan@faseb.org
301-634-7104
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Honey as an antibiotic: Scientists identify a secret ingredient in honey that kills bacteria

New research in the FASEB Journal shows that defensin-1, a protein added to honey by bees, possesses potent antibacterial properties and could be used again drug-resistant bacteria

Sweet news for those looking for new antibiotics: A new research published in the July 2010 print edition of the FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org) explains for the first time how honey kills bacteria. Specifically, the research shows that bees make a protein that they add to the honey, called defensin-1, which could one day be used to treat burns and skin infections and to develop new drugs that could combat antibiotic-resistant infections.

"We have completely elucidated the molecular basis of the antibacterial activity of a single medical-grade honey, which contributes to the applicability of honey in medicine," said Sebastian A.J. Zaat, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Department of Medical Microbiology at the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam. "Honey or isolated honey-derived components might be of great value for prevention and treatment of infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

To make the discovery, Zaat and colleagues investigated the antibacterial activity of medical-grade honey in test tubes against a panel of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria. They developed a method to selectively neutralize the known antibacterial factors in honey and determine their individual antibacterial contributions. Ultimately, researchers isolated the defensin-1 protein, which is part of the honey bee immune system and is added by bees to honey. After analysis, the scientists concluded that the vast majority of honey's antibacterial properties come from that protein. This information also sheds light on the inner workings of honey bee immune systems, which may one day help breeders create healthier and heartier honey bees.

"We've known for millennia that honey can be good for what ails us, but we haven't known how it works," said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of the FASEB Journal, "Now that we've extracted a potent antibacterial ingredient from honey, we can make it still more effective and take the sting out of bacterial infections."

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Receive monthly highlights from the FASEB Journal by e-mail. Sign up at http://www.faseb.org/fjupdate.aspx. The FASEB Journal (http://www.fasebj.org) is published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB). The journal has been recognized by the Special Libraries Association as one of the top 100 most influential biomedical journals of the past century and is the most cited biology journal worldwide according to the Institute for Scientific Information.

FASEB comprises 23 societies with more than 100,000 members, making it the largest coalition of biomedical research associations in the United States. FASEB enhances the ability of scientists and engineers to improve—through their research—the health, well-being and productivity of all people. FASEB's mission is to advance health and welfare by promoting progress and education in biological and biomedical sciences through service to our member societies and collaborative advocacy.

Details: Paulus H. S. Kwakman, Anje A. te Velde, Leonie de Boer, Dave Speijer, Christina M. J. E. Vandenbroucke-Grauls, and Sebastian A. J. Zaat. How honey kills bacteria. FASEB J. 2010 24: 2576-2582. DOI: 10.1096/fj.09-150789 ; http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/abstract/24/7/2576



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