The healing power of honey has been known since biblical times and is still used as an antibiotic today. Now Cardiff University is working with a team of experts to see if honey can help fight MRSA, the deadly hospital bacteria that is resistant to conventional antibiotics.
With the different flowers bees visit making honey with different healing properties the scope for finding new uses for honey is vast. This has prompted the Welsh School of Pharmacy the National Botanic Garden of Wales and the Society for Applied Microbiology to team up with Cardiff University to test for the affect of honey against two of the most common hospital acquired infections antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA and Clostridium difficile.
The study will base its research on samples provided by honey-makers across the country along with a list of plants near their beehives. It is hoped that a screening test developed at Cardiff University using a DNA profiling will identify the plants which contributed to the most powerful honeys.
Professor Les Baillie of the Welsh School of Pharmacy said: "A lot of drug development involves expensive laboratory screening of a huge variety of plant products, often without success. We’re hoping to cut out the middle man and let the bees do a lot of the hard work, guiding to us those plants which work. We’re hoping the public can provide us with as much home-made honey as possible – they could supply the vital breakthrough in fighting these bacteria."
The Botanic Garden has 14 beehives and an in-house bee keeper, Lynda Christie, who will provide key expertise in support of this project. Once the most potent honey's have been identified the team will then investigate the plants found in them honey for the potential to develop new drugs. T
Dr Natasha de Vere, National Botanic Garden of Wales, said: "We have nearly completed our Barcode Wales project to DNA barcode each of the 1143 flowering plants in Wales and are excited to be developing our first applications that use this fantastic resource. We can see which honeys have the best results against infectious diseases that affect humans and bees and use DNA bar-coding to identify the plants making the honey.
The joint university and botanical garden team will also be looking for honeys which help bees resist pests and bugs. In particular, they will test for resistance to the Varroa mite, which has caused a rapid decline in the UK bee population, and the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae, responsible for American Foulbrood, which is one of the most destructive of all bee diseases. Bee pollination is worth an estimated £100m to British agriculture every year, and it is vital to halt the fall in bee numbers.
Anyone who wants to contribute their honey to the research project should send a 200 gram pot with their address, postcode, and details of the plants their bees feed on to:
Welsh School of Pharmacy,
King Edward VII Avenue