The BeeHolder, Winter 2012
Last year, scientists confirmed that New Zealand Manuka honey could be used to combat some of the most hard-to-treat infections that are resistant to powerful antibiotics. Hospital acquired infections of MRSA and Clostridium Difficile (C Diff) are costing the NHS millions of pounds each year. There are just too few antibiotics that are effective against these bacteria. These antibiotics are used as a very last resort because when the bacteria have acquired a resistance to them there is nothing left except a world-wide catastrophe. With the aim of searching for honeys that have a high bactericidal capability a team at Cardiff’s School of Pharmacy has been collecting honey samples from throughout Wales and will then screen them for activity against various bacteria including MRSA and C Diff. The search is for the specific plants whose nectar or pollen enhance a bactericidal effect in the honey. Wales is the ideal place for such research because it is the only country in the world where its entire flora has had its DNA analysed and bar-coded*. Well done the National Botanic Garden of Wales (NBGW) for completing this project.
The NBGW will identify the plants which contributed to the most powerful honeys. The team will then investigate the plants found in honey for the potential to develop new drugs. The Botanic Garden has 14 beehives and an in-house bee keeper, Lynda Christie, is providing key expertise in support of this project.
The joint University and Garden team are also looking for honeys which help bees resist pests and bugs. In particular, they are testing for resistance to the Varroa mite and the bacterium Paenibacillus larvae, responsible for American Foulbrood, one of the most destructive of all bee diseases.
Honey samples from the areas indicated on the map have been analysed so far.
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."
At the National Honey Show (October 2012) Jenny Hawkins from the Welsh School of Pharmacy said the honey from one particular apiary near Tywyn had showed particular promise. 38 different plants had been identified within the honey, but none were unique to this particular batch of honey and the proportions of each type of plant within the honey were again not particularly unique. When the team visited the Tywyn area they failed to identify any unique characteristics of the area, but Hawkins pointed out that they were particularly short of samples of honey from Mid and North Wales. It maybe that in these areas there are subspecies of the Welsh Flora that are contributing an important bacteriocide. The team does need more samples of honey. Contact HawkinsJ6@cardiff.ac.uk for details of how to send in your sample.
(adapted from a Cardiff University in-house magazine)
* This project followed a less successful attempt to baa code the DNA of sheep, Ed.