A Medieval Remedy that Kills MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus)







A 1,000-Year-Old Antimicrobial Remedy with Antistaphylococcal Activity

Freya Harrison,a Aled E. L. Roberts,a Rebecca Gabrilska,b Kendra P. Rumbaugh,b Christina Lee,c Stephen P.

Digglea Centre for Biomolecular Sciences, School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, United Kingdom a ; Department of Surgery, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, School of Medicine, Lubbock, Texas, USA b; School of English and Centre for the Study of the Viking Age, University of Nottingham, University Park, Nottingham, United Kingdom c


Plant-derived compounds and other natural substances are a rich potential source of compounds that kill or attenuate pathogens that are resistant to current antibiotics. Medieval societies used a range of these natural substances to treat conditions clearly recognizable to the modern eye as microbial infections, and there has been much debate over the likely efficacy of these treatments. Our interdisciplinary team, comprising researchers from both sciences and humanities, identified and reconstructed a potential remedy for Staphylococcus aureus infection from a 10th century Anglo-Saxon leechbook. The remedy repeatedly killed established S. aureus biofilms in an in vitro model of soft tissue infection and killed methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) in a mouse chronic wound model. While the remedy contained several ingredients that are individually known to have some antibacterial activity, full efficacy required the combined action of several ingredients, highlighting the scholarship of premodern doctors and the potential of ancient texts as a source of new antimicrobial agents. IMPORTANCE While the antibiotic potential of some materials used in historical medicine has been demonstrated, empirical tests of entire remedies are scarce. This is an important omission, because the efficacy of “ancientbiotics” could rely on the combined activity of their various ingredients. This would lead us to underestimate their efficacy and, by extension, the scholarship of premodern doctors. It could also help us to understand why some natural compounds that show antibacterial promise in the laboratory fail to yield positive results in clinical trials. We have reconstructed a 1,000-year-old remedy which kills the bacteria it was designed to treat and have shown that this activity relies on the combined activity of several antimicrobial ingredients. Our results highlight (i) the scholarship and rational methodology of premodern medical professionals and (ii) the untapped potential of premodern remedies for yielding novel therapeutics at a time when new antibiotics are desperately needed.

Integrated fish and plant farming




Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Rome, 2014


Somerville, C., Cohen, M., Pantanella, E., Stankus, A. & Lovatelli, A. 2014.
Small-scale aquaponic food production. Integrated fish and plant farming.
FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 589. Rome, FAO. 262 pp.

Aquaponics is a symbiotic integration of two mature disciplines: aquaculture and hydroponics. This technical paper discusses the three groups of living organisms (bacteria, plants and fish) that make up the aquaponic ecosystem. It presents management strategies and troubleshooting practices, as well as related topics, specifically highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of this method of food production. This publication discusses the main theoretical concepts of aquaponics, including the nitrogen cycle, the role of bacteria, and the concept of balancing an aquaponic unit. It considers water quality, testing and sourcing for aquaponics, as well as methods and theories of unit design, including the three main methods of aquaponic systems: media beds, nutrient film technique, and deep water culture. The publication includes other key topics: ideal conditions for common plants grown in aquaponics; chemical and biological controls of common pests and diseases including a compatible planting guide; common fish diseases and related symptoms, causes and remedies; tools to calculate the ammonia produced and biofiltration media required for a certain amount of fish feed; production of homemade fish food; guidelines and considerations for to establishing aquaponic units; a cost-benefit analysis of a small-scale, media bed aquaponic unit; a comprehensive guide to building small-scale versions of each of the three aquaponic methods; and a brief summary of this publication designed as a supplemental handout for outreach, extension and education. Aquaponics is an integrated approach to efficient and sustainable intensification of agriculture that meets the needs of water scarcity initiatives. Globally, improved agricultural practices are needed to alleviate rural poverty and enhance food security. Aquaponics is residue-free, and avoids the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Aquaponics is a labour-saving technique, and can be inclusive of many gender and age categories. In the face of population growth, climate change and dwindling supplies of water and arable land worldwide, developing efficient and integrated agriculture techniques will support economic development.


Meet the electric life forms that live on pure energy

Unlike any other life on Earth, these extraordinary bacteria use energy in its purest form – they eat and breathe electrons – and they are everywhere

The discovery of electric bacteria shows that some very basic forms of life can do away with sugary middlemen and handle the energy in its purest form – electrons, harvested from the surface of minerals. “It is truly foreign, you know,” says Nealson. “In a sense, alien.”

Nealson’s team is one of a handful that is now growing these bacteria directly on electrodes, keeping them alive with electricity and nothing else – neither sugars nor any other kind of nutrient. The highly dangerous equivalent in humans, he says, would be for us to power up by shoving our fingers in a DC electrical socket.

To grow these bacteria, the team collects sediment from the seabed, brings it back to the lab, and inserts electrodes into it.

First they measure the natural voltage across the sediment, before applying a slightly different one. A slightly higher voltage offers an excess of electrons; a slightly lower voltage means the electrode will readily accept electrons from anything willing to pass them off. Bugs in the sediments can either “eat” electrons from the higher voltage, or “breathe” electrons on to the lower-voltage electrode, generating a current. That current is picked up by the researchers as a signal of the type of life they have captured.

“Basically, the idea is to take sediment, stick electrodes inside and then ask ‘OK, who likes this?’,” says Nealson.


The Zoo In the Mouth

A. Murat Eren, a microbial ecologist at Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and his colleagues have come up with a powerful new way to chart the diversity of microbes. They call it oligotyping. They line up the 16S rRNA genes from a group of microbes, and then they look for spots in the gene that have the most differences from one microbe to another.

Paper; http://www.pnas.org/content/111/28/E2875

Oligotyping analysis of the human oral microbiome
A. Murat Erena, Gary G. Borisyb,1, Susan M. Husec, and Jessica L. Mark Welcha,1

The Human Microbiome Project provided a census of bacterial populations in healthy individuals, but an understanding of the biomedical significance of this census has been hindered by limited taxonomic resolution. A high-resolution method termed oligotyping overcomes this limitation by evaluating individual nucleotide positions using Shannon entropy to identify the most information-rich nucleotide positions, which then define oligotypes. We have applied this method to comprehensively analyze the oral microbiome. Using Human Microbiome Project 16S rRNA gene sequence data for the nine sites in the oral cavity, we identified 493 oligotypes from the V1-V3 data and 360 oligotypes from the V3-V5 data. We associated these oligotypes with species-level taxon names by comparison with the Human Oral Microbiome Database. We discovered closely related oligotypes, differing sometimes by as little as a single nucleotide, that showed dramatically different distributions among oral sites and among individuals. We also detected potentially pathogenic taxa in high abundance in individual samples. Numerous oligotypes were preferentially located in plaque, others in keratinized gingiva or buccal mucosa, and some oligotypes were characteristic of habitat groupings such as throat, tonsils, tongue dorsum, hard palate, and saliva. The differing habitat distributions of closely related oligotypes suggest a level of ecological and functional biodiversity not previously recognized. We conclude that the Shannon entropy approach of oligotyping has the capacity to analyze entire microbiomes, discriminate between closely related but distinct taxa and, in combination with habitat analysis, provide deep insight into the microbial communities in health and disease.


The human body, including the mouth, is home to a diverse assemblage of microbial organisms. Although high-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA genes provides enormous amounts of census data, accurate identification of taxa in these large datasets remains problematic because widely used computational approaches do not resolve closely related but distinct organisms. We used a computational approach that relies on information theory to reanalyze the human oral microbiome. This analysis revealed organisms differing by as little as a single rRNA nucleotide, with dramatically different distributions across habitats or individuals. Our information theory-based approach in combination with habitat analysis demonstrates the potential to deconstruct entire microbiomes, detect previously unrecognized diversity, and provide deep insight into microbial communities in health and disease.

The Zoo In the Mouth