A VTT study found that antimicrobial compounds in Finnish berries are effective in fighting superbacteria.
Overuse of antibiotics over the past 20 years has resulted in the rapid proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. There is no known antibiotic compound effective against certain bacteria. This results in human suffering and enormous health care costs.
"A typical example of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Few know that as many as 20 percent of all people carry it on their skin," explains Principal Scientist Riitta Puupponen-Pimiä in a VTT press release.
"MRSA poses a risk in even minor surgical procedures, ones that we have come to see as being safe. In major, challenging procedures, the risk increases even more."
The VTT project sought to find out whether the natural antimicrobial compounds in Finnish berries--particularly cloudberry, raspberry and Arctic brambleberry--would be effective against such bacterial strains.
"The compounds can be found in large quantities on the surface of berry seeds and we can enrich them to form extracts from berry side flows. This primarily means seeds left over when the juice is squeezed from the berries for use in foods," explains Puupponen-Pimiä.
The same compounds can be produced with cell cultures in synthetic growth media.
In nature, active berry compounds protect the seeds from, for example, mould before they germinate. Similarly, the compounds can prevent the growth of pathogenic microbes on the skin.
"Berry extract seems to be extremely effective against antibiotic resistant bacteria. Even in very small concentrations, it is able to almost completely eliminate MRSA microbes on the skin. Another advantage of the compounds is that they don't damage useful bacteria on the skin," says Puupponen-Pimiä.
"And the combination of berry extract and antibiotics is very effective. Berry extract can reactivate an antibiotic that has lost its antimicrobial potency."
The first results on the effectiveness of berry extract were achieved in a test tube, where the effect was analysed in optimal growing conditions for the microbes.
"In animal testing, the effectiveness of berry extract against an MRSA bacterial strain was analysed in a wound on the skin of a mouse. The results were once again promising: we were able to control the spread of bacteria very effectively with the berry extract."
There is a wide variety of possible applications for antimicrobial berry extracts in health care. Extracts can be used, for example, in pre-operative preparations, preventing skin infections and healing wounds.