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Antibacterial Protection Right Under Your Feet November 8, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Diseases, Environment, Human Body, Tough Stuff.
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Clay – it’s that dirty looking, messy and just plain ol’ gunky stuff we find on the ground. But researchers have just recently found out that it also has some neat antibacterial properties too! A unique type of French clay has been found to terminate all sorts of bacteria, even antibiotic resistant ones that have become a very real and frightening challenge to combat. On top of that, the clay has been found to beat an icky pathogen – Mycobacterium ulcerans – that can cause skin ulcers in several parts of the world, leading to amputations.

Investigating Clay

This particular clay isn’t something new. In fact, it has been around for centuries where it was thought to have medicinal value, being used for skin cleansing and treating the bacteria that cause the icky ulcers I just mentioned. It was when geochemist Lynda Williams of Arizona State University learned of the clay’s power against Mycobacterium ulcerans that she gathered up a crew of curious researchers who were all eager to study the properties of the clay.

Clay The researchers dubbed the clay CsAg02. What a complex name! I sometimes give a little sigh and wonder why they can’t give the clay a less technical name – like Super Germ Buster Magnifique (that last bit was my ode to the French nature of the clay!). They learned that it’s a strong alkaline and has a pH of 9.4 to 10. Its cool greenish color is from a chemical form of iron. Still, lots of other clays have these same properties, so it’s clearly some other aspect of the clay that’s responsible for its potent antibacterial properties. Hmmmmmm.


To figure out just how the clay blasts away bacteria, Williams and her team treated the clay with potassium salt, which pulls out charged molecules. Without these charged molecules, the antibacterial power of the clay was blocked! So, this means that the bacteria are somehow affected by the charged molecules. Now, the next step for the research team will be to study what minerals keep these molecules active and rearing to fight against the bacteria.

Bacteria Beware

Researchers also wanted to check out what effect CsAg02 had on different microbes. How did they do that? Well, they took cultures of microbes and incubated them with CsAg02. You might have heard names of bacteria that are commonly implicated in cases of food poisoning – Salmonella typhimurium and Escherichia coli. We can give a big kudos to CsAg02 because it knocked them both out by stopping their growth! Researchers also incubated CsAg02 with strains of mycobacterium that can lead to skin infections. How well did it handle those? It stopped their growth as well!

So the clay kills bacteria – big deal, right? Actually, it is a really big deal! By figuring out just how the clay fights these powerful types of bacteria, we can learn new ways of killing some of the bacteria that plague humans. The clay could also provide antibacterial protection in air filters and sewage treatments. So, as sludgy and benign as clay may look, it still packs a powerful antimicrobial punch!

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