Amber: Cure For Bacterial Infection?

Forum Health Amber: Cure For Bacterial Infection?

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    Amber: Cure For Bacterial Infection?

    The yellowish-transparent amber can not only convince as a popular piece of jewelry, but has also been used for medical purposes for centuries. For example, elixirs and ointments enriched with amber powder have a high antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effect. Due to which components the amber has these properties has so far remained largely unexplained for scientists and experts. There are now indications that certain ingredients of amber could be used successfully in the treatment of bacterial-infectious diseases in the future.

    The gold of the Baltic Sea

    The world’s largest occurrence of amber occurs in the Baltic Sea region. Basically, however, the yellowish stones are not even rock. Amber is just hardened tree resin, which comes from long extinct pines of the Sciadopityaceae family (umbrella fir family). The resin was used by the pines to keep microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi and herbivorous insects away. It probably originated around 44 million years ago, i.e. in the Eocene period. Amber is not only very popular in jewelry processing, but is also extremely interesting for science with its fossil inclusions (preserved animals and plant parts) and due to its medicinal properties.

    New possibilities in medication

    In a study by the University of Minnesota, compounds have now been discovered in amber that are most likely responsible for its excellent anti-infectious properties. This means that Baltic amber should soon play an important role in the development of new drugs against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The investigations were driven forward by the research team led by Dr. Elizabeth Ambrose, who examined various self-collected and commercially available amber samples in the laboratory for months. “We knew from previous research that there are substances in Baltic amber that could lead to new antibiotics, but they had not been systematically researched,” says the head of research.

    Elaborate examination procedures necessary

    The sometimes greatest challenge for the researchers was the pulverization of the amber, which was necessary to produce extracts: In the end, a special table-top glass rolling mill was used. With the help of various solvents and techniques, the amber powder produced was filtered and concentrated in order to then identify its organic compounds in analytical-chemical processes. The researchers were able to identify a variety of compounds with potential effectiveness, including abietic acid, dehydroabietic acid, and palustric acid (resin acids: the main constituent of natural resins). The team then tested pure samples of the compounds for their behavior against nine different types of bacteria.

    Counteract antibiotic-resistant bacteria

    A particularly decisive finding from the experiments: the compounds are active against gram-positive bacteria (blue), but not against gram-negative bacteria (red). The effectiveness of the compounds contained in amber is therefore fundamentally related to the systematization according to Gramfarben. The research team assumes that the different composition of the bacterial membrane is responsible for this phenomenon. Gram-negative bacteria have a much more complex cell wall, which presumably inhibits the effect of the compounds. Nonetheless, the substances in Baltic amber represent a promising source of new drugs that could be used to combat gram-positive bacteria. Head of Research Dr. Ambrose sees great potential here, especially in the treatment of antibiotic-resistant cocci (spheroidal bacteria). Research is currently being carried out on alternative raw materials for the extraction of bioactive compounds in order to protect Baltic amber as a fossil and finite occurrence.

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Forum Health Amber: Cure For Bacterial Infection?