Research has found Irish soil thought to have medicinal properties appears to carry superbug-busting potential.

Experts investigated soil that originated from an area of Northern Ireland known as the Boho Highlands. The region’s alkaline grassland and the soil has long been reputed to have healing properties.

The study revealed that the dirt does in fact contain a previously unknown strain of bacteria, which appears to be effective against four of the top six superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics.

The area had been populated by Druids over 1,500 years ago, and was well-known for its healing dirt. Locals had traditionally wrapped a small amount of soil in cotton cloth and used it to heal ailments like toothache, throat and neck infections.

The new investigation uncovered an entirely new strain of bacteria dubbed ‘Streptomyces sp. Myrophorea’.

The newly-identified strain was found to inhibit the growth of four of the top six multi-resistant pathogens responsible for healthcare-associated infections: Vancomycin resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Klebsiella pneumonia, and Carbenepenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumanii.

The new strain also appears to inhibit both gram positive and gram negative bacteria, which have different cell wall structures and vary in their resistance to antibiotics. Usually gram negative strains are more resistant. 

The research team has moved on to investigate exactly which component of the new strain prevents the growth of the pathogens.

Researcher Dr Gerry Quinn had previously lived in Boho and had heard of the local healing practices.

“The discovery of antimicrobial substances from Streptomyces sp.myrophorea will help in our search for new drugs to treat multi-resistant bacteria, the cause of many dangerous and lethal infections,” Dr Quinn said.

“We will now concentrate on the purification and identification of these antibiotics. We have also discovered additional antibacterial organisms from the same soil cure which may cover a broader spectrum of multi-resistant pathogens.”

Fellow researcher Professor Paul Dyson said it was an exciting step forward.

“This new strain of bacteria is effective against 4 of the top 6 pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA,” he said.

“Our discovery is an important step forward in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

“Our results show that folklore and traditional medicines are worth investigating in the search for new antibiotics.

“Scientists, historians and archaeologists can all have something to contribute to this task. It seems that part of the answer to this very modern problem might lie in the wisdom of the past.”

More information is accessible here.