Brazilian peppertree is, to most people, well, a weed. It’s an annoying invasive species found all over Florida and the Gulf Coast, and being able to get pink peppercorns out of it is a small comfort to people busting out the chainsaw. But the good news is that the peppertree might soon have a real use: Namely, killing the superbugs that are a looming threat.
More specifically, it turns out the peppertree can effectively fight methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus auereus, or MRSA. The peppertree has been the source of folk cures for a long time, and scientists at Florida’s Emory University decided to grab a few berries and see what was happening. They quickly isolated a chemical that interferes with certain genes in MRSA and essentially defangs it: It can’t secrete the toxins it needs to damage cells, giving the cells more time to fight back. It doesn’t hurt the cells or the other skin bacteria, either, and isn’t an antibiotic, which helps keep antibiotics free for those who need it.
There’s a lot of work that needs to be done before this is officially a drug. There might also be an allergy issue, as anybody who’s had to cut one down can tell you, the peppertree’s sap can be a skin irritant. But if nothing else, it shows another strategy for dealing with superbugs that scientists should consider.
(Via New Atlas)