A type of blue clay found only in the ground in the US state of Oregon could be used to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Scientists say the unusual soil can kill bacteria which are difficult to destroy using drugs, and could help fight infections in humans.
Diarrhoea bug E.coli and hospital superbug MRSA could both be in the firing line as scientists managed to kill them with the clay in a lab.
Clay is already commonly used in skin treatments like face masks, and for their study the scientists mixed it with liquid to test its antibacterial properties.
The researchers say their findings are an ‘important advance’ in exploring new ways to fight infections as increasing numbers become resistant to medicine.
The blue clay, which is found only in the US state of Oregon could have antibacterial properties that could kill bacteria resistant to drugs, scientists say (pictured: a researchers digging up the clay)
Experts from Arizona State University and the Mayo Clinic say Oregon blue clay could help medics to fight disease-causing bacteria in wounds.
In lab studies they found applying the clay to samples of infectious bacteria killed them off.
These included E.coli, Staphylococcus infections and MRSA, which is immune to most common antibiotics including penicillin and amoxicillin.
The use of clay could provide a new way forward for scientists who are searching for ways to overcome spreading antibiotic resistance.
Experts have warned even simple infections could become deadly if traditional medicines stop working.
Blue clay can kill hard-to-get sticky bacteria
‘This study is an important advance in understanding how clays, specifically blue clay from Oregon, have shown medicinal properties by attaching to bacteria,’ said Enriqueta Barrera, from the National Science Foundation which funded the research.
As well as killing individual bacteria the clay could also destroy bacteria which become biofilms, which are created when bacteria stick together such as in dental plaque.
These can be especially difficult to get rid of because they create a protective coating, according to the researchers, but are found in two thirds of infections.
‘These results support efforts to design new drugs’
Arizona State University’s Lynda Williams said: ‘We showed that these clays diminish populations of bacterial biofilms as well as bacteria common in wounds that are more resistant to drugs.
‘The results support our efforts to design new antibacterial drugs using natural clays.’
The scientists say it is early days for the research and more studies need to be done, but the results are promising.
Robin Patel from Mayo Clinic added: ‘We showed that this reduced iron-bearing clay can kill some strains of bacteria under the laboratory conditions used, including bacteria grown as biofilms, which can be particularly challenging to treat.’
The team’s findings appear in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents.
WHAT IS ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?
Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned if nothing is done the world is heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.
It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.
Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics or if they are given out unnecessarily.
Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism.
Figures estimate that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.
Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world.
Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.
In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.
In September, the WHO warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.
Without antibiotics, C-sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements will become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.