Pollen from the Manuka tree produces honey that stops infections from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) by blocking a key stage in its cell division.

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Pathogenic bacteria that cannot divide and reproduce cannot cause infection. Manuka honey, produced from the flower of the Manuka tree in New Zealand and Australia, interrupts cell division in the methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacterium that causes wound infections. Science does not fully understand how Manuka honey inactivates MRSA but it appears to hinder the function of murein hydrolase enzymes that play a key role in successful cell division.

In order for a cell to divide properly, certain enzymes must be activated. When these enzymes are present, the cell division proceeds normally, as in the path that drifts to the left in the picture above. When these enzymes become blocked, or inhibited, the cell division is paused and thus the cells cannot fully separate, as seen above in the path that drifts to the right.

Artist: Emily Harrington. Copyright: All rights reserved. See gallery for details.

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"Honey has a complex chemistry, and its broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity varies with floral source, climate and harvesting conditions. Although the precise mode of action of honey is unknown, components that contribute to its antimicrobial activity include a high sugar content, low water content, low pH and the formation of hydrogen peroxide on dilution. Antibacterial phenolic components have been identified in honey…Enlarged cells containing septa were observed in MRSA exposed to inhibitory concentrations of manuka honey, suggesting that cell division was interrupted. These changes were not caused by either the sugars or methylglyoxal in honey and indicate the presence of additional antibacterial components in manuka honey." (Jenkins et al. 2011: 2536)

"Growth of MRSA was inhibited by 5%, 10% and 20% (w/v) manuka honey… Methylglyoxal (MGO) was identified as the dominant active antibacterial component of manuka honey (MH)." (Jenkins et al. 2011: 2536)

"MH would have to be diluted by a factor of ≥20 to reach subinhibitory levels... the four major constituent sugars present in honey were not entirely responsible for the inhibition of MRSA." (Jenkins et al. 2011: 2539)

"The accumulation of cells containing whole or incomplete septa has shown that MH interrupted the cell cycle of S. aureus...The accumulation of cells with significantly larger diameters following incubation with inhibitory concentrations of MH indicates that cells had reached a late stage in the cell cycle, where cell division rather than metabolic activity associated with increased cell volume was impaired." (Jenkins et al. 2011: 2540)

"..Murein hydrolases were implicated in the failure of S. aureus to divide." (Jenkins et al. 2011: 2541)

Journal article
Manuka honey inhibits cell division in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureusJournal of Antimicrobial ChemotherapySeptember 9, 2011
R. Jenkins, N. Burton, R. Cooper

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