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Appeal for home-made honey to fight superbugs

13 June 2011

Bee-keepers could hold the key to new superbug treatments in their back gardens.

Cardiff University and the National Botanic Garden of Wales are appealing for help in building up a DNA profile of the nation’s honey. They hope to use the information to identify plants which could fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as the ‘superbug’ MRSA. The honey project could also help fight the diseases currently attacking Britain’s bees.

Honeys have long been known to have anti-bacterial properties and are used in wound dressings today. Different honeys act against different microbes depending on the chemicals in the plants visited by bees.

Now the Welsh School of Pharmacy at Cardiff University and the National Botanic Garden of Wales are asking honey-makers across the country to send them samples, along with a list of plants near their beehives. A screening test developed at Cardiff will test for activity against two of the most common hospital-acquired infections, the bacteria MRSA and Clostridium difficile.

The National Botanic Garden of Wales will identify the plants which contributed to the most powerful honeys, using a DNA profiling process being developed as an application of their Barcode Wales project, which has DNA barcoded the flowering plants of Wales. The team will then investigate the plants found in the honey for the potential to develop new drugs. The Botanic Garden has 14 beehives and a professional bee keeper, Lynda Christie, who will provide key expertise in support of this project.

The joint University and Garden team, who are supported by the Society for Applied Microbiology, 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.

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."

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 barcoding to identify the plants making the honey."

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:

Jenny Hawkins,
Welsh School of Pharmacy,
Cardiff University,
Redwood Building
King Edward VII Avenue
CF10 3NB


Notes to editors

Members of the research team will be available for interviews, filming and photographs at the National Botanic Garden of Wales from 2pm on Monday, July 13, 2011. To attend, please contact:

Stephen Rouse,
Public Relations Office,
Cardiff University.
029 2087 5596

For further information about the research, please contact:

Professor Les Baillie
Welsh School of Pharmacy,
Cardiff University
Tel: 029 208 75535

Dr Natasha de Vere
Head of Conservation and Research
National Botanic Garden of Wales
Tel: 01558 667126

Cardiff University
Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans.
Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010.

National Botanic Garden of Wales
The National Botanic Garden of Wales is dedicated to the research and conservation of biodiversity, to sustainability, lifelong learning and the enjoyment of the visitor. The first botanic garden of the new Millennium it was developed to represent Wales on the world stage of plant conservation and research. Its research programme concentrates on the plants and habitats of Wales, how to conserve them, and also on what plants can do for human health and wellbeing.
The Garden contains an amazing collection of over 8000 different plant species, spread across 560 acres of beautiful countryside, with a stunning collection of themed gardens to appeal to a wide range of visitors from those who just love the sight and smells of flowers to those who want to know about medicinal plants or the latest DNA research into plant evolution. It has the world’s largest single spanned glasshouse, designed by Lord Foster, that has the best display of Mediterranean climate zone plants in the Northern hemisphere.The Garden is just over an hour from Cardiff and three minutes from the main Swansea-to-Carmarthen A48 dual carriageway and is open every day except Christmas Day. The Garden is a registered charity, funded by the Welsh Government, Carmarthenshire County Council and the Big Lottery fund.

The Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM)
SfAM is the voice of Applied Microbiology within the UK. We are the oldest UK microbiology society with members worldwide. SfAM works in partnership with sister organisations and microbiological bodies to ensure that microbiology and microbiologists are able to exert influence on policy-makers within the UK, in Europe and world-wide. The quality of the microbiologists of the future depends on the standard of education offered, and the Society plays a leading role in working with many different organisations to educate, inform and support the training of our future microbiologists.