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Clay can kill superbugs, study finds

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  • Clay can kill superbugs, study finds


    Clay can kill superbugs, study finds

    Tom Spears, Ottawa Citizen
    Published: Sunday, April 06, 2008

    Ottawa . Ordinary clay dug from the ground can kill the drug-resistant superbug MRSA and other lethal infections, and is being investigated as a potential tool in treating patients.

    "Healing" clays have been known for years to soak up toxins produced by bacteria, which can limit the spread of infection.

    But now, research at Arizona State University shows some forms of clay actually kill salmonella, E. coli, MRSA and Mycobacterium ulcerans, which causes flesh-eating disease. If scientists can figure out how it works, they could make a cheap, low-tech weapon against infection available in countries that don't have access to Western mecicine.

    Clay isn't a drug yet, but it's getting there.

    "Clays are little chemical drug-stores in a packet," said study leader Lynda Williams, a geochemist at Arizona State.

    "They contain literally hundreds of elements. Some of these compounds are beneficial, but others aren't. Our goal is to find out what nature is doing and see if we can find a better way to kill harmful bacteria."

    Clay is defined as any mineral that forms very tiny grains of less than two microns, or millionths of a metre.

    How it kills bacteria is still an enormous mystery, but Ms. Williams knows that it does the job somehow - at least in glass dishes of bacteria cultures. Tests in animals haven't started yet.

    Still, she's hopeful, especially since there's some limited but intriguing experience with human patients underlying the theory.

    A French woman she knew grew up using clay to heal cuts, as a folk remedy.

    The woman was married to an ambassador and later travelled to the Ivory Coast.

    "She saw these people with flesh-eating disease. It's a mycobacterial infection that eats the fat tissue under the skin. It puts out a toxin that's immuno-suppressant, so the body's defences don't kill the bacteria."

    The French woman tried a variety of clays in an effort to fight the infection.

    "That would never have been allowed in the United States, but she actually, through trial and error, found some that killed the infection."

    Eventually, Arizona State got involved, creating a mixed team of experts in geology and infectious disease. So far it has tested 20 types of clay, and found that three were highly effective.

    "There really are natural clays out there that kill a broad spectrum of human pathogens," Ms. Williams said.

    The clays would be directly useful only on surface infections, but the team hopes that learning how they work might also inspire drugs that work internally. As well, they hope to find inexpensive ways to kill bacteria as antibiotics lose their effectiveness.

    "How" is still the big question. They aren't sure whether it's the acidity level in clay (which ranges from very high to very low), the other elements contained in them, the oxygen available to them, or other chemistry.

    Her results were presented Sunday night to the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society, in New Orleans.

    Ms. Williams cautions that people shouldn't use clay they find themselves, as it may contain arsenic, mercury or other toxic metals.

    "Healing clays" are also for sale on the Internet, she notes. In fact, her lab tested some that claimed to kill bacteria.

    Most of them didn't work.

    ? Ottawa Citizen 2008

  • #2
    Not a mystery at all, if you know your chemistry.

    Enormous mystery..yeah, right.

    One of the most notable attributes of clays is that, under certain ionic conditions (saline or calcium-rich aqueous phase), they form mutually repulsive charge layers such that they cannot be easily settled (termed 'expansive') nor compressed.

    What's happening is this: these bacteria normally have rather slimy cell surfaces enriched in exopolymers (some of which are important in forming cell surface attachments, others for colony formation and signaling). These exopolymers can bind clay particles. Powdered clay particles will form uniform, densely-charged mineral layers that surround - and isolate - the cell from interaction with its environment.

    Geophagy among animals and birds- including Psittacidae (parrot family) that consume clay mineral-enriched soils, particularly noted in South America and Africa, is well-known. Some clay-enriched deposits have been observed in use for geophagy for many decades. While clay-eating has been attributed to mineral consumption, it's also been suspected of having other health properties.

    'Superbugs' carry MDR gene cassettes, typically confired by plasmids/bacteriophage-acquired genes under drug selection. Drug resistance characteristics often involve transmembrane channel, exported compounds, and adaptive alterations in bacterial surface glycoproteins. Disruption of cell surface characteristics would interfere with host-pathogen docking interactions, uptake of nutrients by extracellular pathogens and pathogen transfer of resistance genes within the host.
    Last edited by Oracle; April 7, 2008, 01:54 PM. Reason: Added material.


    • #3
      Re: Clay can kill superbugs, study finds

      Fascinating. First garlic now clay shows promise for treating MRSA.
      Please do not ask me for medical advice, I am not a medical doctor.

      Avatar is a painting by Alan Pollack, titled, "Plague". I'm sure it was an accident that the plague girl happened to look almost like my twin.
      Thank you,
      Shannon Bennett