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Carnivorous Plants: Alternative to Antibiotics?
December 1, 2014   
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A substance produced by carnivorous plants commonly known as Sundews may become an alternative to antibiotics, according to scientists from the Gdańsk University of Technology in northern Poland. The scientists are working to isolate this substance.

Sundews, also known as Drosera, are a genus of carnivorous plants that lure, trap and digest insects using leaves covered with sticky hairs. Sundews usually live in wet habitats, often in shallow water, where the acidic conditions limit the amount of nutrients they can extract from the soil. These plants supplement their diet by catching and digesting small creatures such as insects. Some species of Sundews are long-lived. Sundews can be found growing on every continent except Antarctica. In Poland there are only three varieties of the plant.

A team led by Prof. Marian Kamiński from the Faculty of Chemistry at the Gdańsk University of Technology is investigating substances produced by Sundews. Doctoral student MariuszJaszczołt is working to obtain what are known as secondary metabolites from carnivorous plants as part of his doctoral dissertation. His research has been singled out for praise in the sixth round of the InnoDoktorant scholarship program for innovative doctoral students.

The digestive juice of Sundews contains small-molecule chemical compounds that destroy microbes, says Jaszczołt.

The researchers are trying to isolate these compounds and use them to fight pathogenic microorganisms. They have already managed to isolate promising ingredients with over 95 percent purity. If further tests are successful, an alternative to more commonly used antibiotics will appear on the market in the future. This will also be an attempt to solve the problem of bacteria resistant to drugs and the diminishing effectiveness of antibiotics.

“When a person with heavy catarrh uses an antibiotic, the microorganisms become resistant to its effects,” says Jaszczołt. “When some time later we are attacked by a strain that poses a real threat, it may turn out that this strain is immune to this antibiotic. The compounds that we are learning to isolate may become an alternative way to deal with such threats in the future.”

Substances derived from Sundews help fight drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and tubercle bacteria. But there is still a long way from the laboratory to treating people—tests first have to be carried out for potential side effects.

“If everything goes to plan, we will patent our procedure,” says Jaszczołt. Such a patent will be the basis for developing medicinal plant preparations.”

Karolina Olszewska
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