Maple syrup extract shows promise in fight against superbugs

Scientists have produced a maple syrup extract that bolsters the ability of antibiotics to battle bacteria (Shutterstock)

Researchers at Canada's McGill University have uncovered what could be a pretty sweet way of warding off bacteria. The scientists developed a concentrated extract of maple syrup and combined it with antibiotics, finding that it heightened bacteria's vulnerability, suggesting it could prove an effective way of lowering dosages required to treat infections and help to hamper the evolution of drug-resistant superbugs.

Starting with off-the-shelf maple syrup from a Montreal market, the scientists first froze the product and then extracted a concentrate rich in molecules known as phenolic compounds.

They then exposed various strains of bacteria to the extract, such as E. coli and Proteus mirabilis, a common culprit of urinary tract infection. When used on its own, the researchers found the extract to have a small effect on the bacteria, but using it in conjunction with common antibiotics saw it take on a whole new level of functionality.

The maple syrup extract served to break down the membrane around the bacteria, its protective layer that repels the efforts of the antibiotics. Furthermore, the extract also neutralizes tiny pumps inside the bacteria that are normally used to push the antibiotics away. The researchers also found that when paired with antibiotics, the maple syrup extract was able to destroy bacterial biofilm, communities of bacteria that cling to each other on a surface.

With the team's early testing done in the lab, there is still a long way to go, but the researchers are hopeful the solution could one day play a role in how antibiotics are delivered to the body.

"We would have to do in vivo tests, and eventually clinical trials, before we can say what the effect would be in humans," says Professor Nathalie Tufenkji, who led the research team. "But the findings suggest a potentially simple and effective approach for reducing antibiotic usage. I could see maple syrup extract being incorporated eventually, for example, into the capsules of antibiotics."

The research was published in the journal American Society for Microbiology.

You can hear from Professor Tufenkji in the video below.

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