A natural compound derived from a South African tree has been found to have surprisingly potent antibacterial properties that may make it a strong new weapon against tuberculosis and other infectious diseases that are becoming increasingly resistant to available antibiotics.
The compound — called diospyrin — comes from a tree that has long been a source for traditional medicinal products used to treat everything from dental conditions to bronchitis, pleurisy, and venereal disease. Twigs from the tree are traditionally used as toothbrushes, which is why it is sometimes referred to as the “toothbrush tree.”
Researchers from the John Innes Centre in Norfolk, England, have determined diospyrin binds to and inactivates an enzyme that is essential for bacteria and plants, but is not present in animals or humans. As a result, it could prove useful in developing new lines of effective and safe antibiotics to treat TB and other bacterial infections.Editor’s Note: Editor’s Note: 3 Secrets to Never Get Sick Again. Get Super Immunity for Only $4.95. Click here.
"The way that diospyrin works helps to explain why it is effective against drug-sensitive and drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis," said Tony Maxwell, who helped lead the research, detailed in a report in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
Tuberculosis, which causes more deaths worldwide than any other bacterial disease, is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Many available drugs are decades old and new alternatives are needed to replace them.
Maxwell noted most antibiotics are derived from natural sources, such as the soil bacteria Streptomyces, and that plants may also be rich sources of new medicines.
"Extracts from plants used in traditional medicine provide a source for novel compounds that may have antibacterial properties, which may then be developed as antibiotics," he said. "This highlights the value of ethnobotany and the value of maintaining biodiversity to help us address global problems."
Maxwell’s research is part of a collaboration involving 25 European laboratories that are working to develop new drugs for TB.