2005-12-28

Health & Science: Supermarket Sponge Superbug Scare

A humble kitchen sponge could hold the key to wiping out the deadly superbug MRSA, Scots scientists have discovered. Rife in modern hospitals, MRSA has claimed the lives of thousands of patients, but is resistant to most antibiotics. Now biologists working on a powerful new antibiotic have found the best way to cultivate the cure is on the surface of an ordinary kitchen scouring pad -- and strangely, one brand alone. The experts at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh have spent the past five years developing the antibiotic from bacteria found on seaweed from North Berwick, East Lothian. But bizarrely, the antibiotic can only be grown on a kitchen sponge sold in 'Morrisons' supermarkets, at a bargain 89p for a packet of eight (11p each) . Professor Mr.Brian Austin, of the university's microbiology department, at first tried to grow the bacteria in glass containers of meat broth. But he switched to the scouring pads when he realised the potential. He said:
'Until now we have been unable to find a surface on which the microbes that produce the anti-biotic could be grown. 'We have now discovered a particular brand of domestic sponge is the only thing that can produce this antibiotic.'
MRSA and other hospital-acquired infections are killing more than 400 people in Scotland each year and infecting tens of thousands. The bacteria being grown on the sponges attacked and ate away at the superbug and could kill even deadly food poisoning bacteria strains such as listeria. However, Mr.Austin and his team remain baffled as to why the everyday kitchen sponges are such effective cultivators.He said:
'We need to speak to the manufacturers to find out what's so special about these sponges. 'Why won't the bacteria produce these antibiotics on any other supermarket sponges? It could be something very subtle, like how shiny the surface is.'
Mr.Austin has attempted to get in touch with the supermarket to track down the sponge manufacturers, but has so far had no luck. He added:
'The supermarket chain will not tell us who makes them. They will only say that it is a UK company. 'We are trying to find out what makes this sponge so special. Perhaps there is something in it we can use. 'If we spoke to the makers and asked them what they used in the manufacturing process, then there's a chance that we could understand why it is reacting the way it does. 'But I have approached "Morrisons" and have had no formal reply -- which I find a bit strange.'
No-one could be contacted at 'Morrisons' yesterday to comment on the claim. '11p kitchen sponges may hold key to beating MRSA' Louise Gray, The Scotsman, 2005-12-28, We Links: MRSA Support --www.mrsasupport.co.uk/

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