• Can Essential Oils Combat Burkholderia Cepacia Complex?

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Can Essential Oils Combat Burkholderia Cepacia Complex?

Sep 07 2018

Researchers are constantly trying new methods and compounds to fight bacterial infections – in part because antibiotic resistance is now recognised as one of the biggest threats to global health we face. Although antibiotic resistance can occur naturally, it is through the misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals that this process is becoming ever more urgent. The knock-on effect from antibiotic resistance includes increased healthcare costs due to longer stays in hospital and an increased risk of death.

A recent paper published in the journal Plos ONE – Antimicrobial activity of essential oils against multidrug-resistant clinical isolates of the Burkholderia cepacia complex – discusses how one team used chromatography to find out how essential oils could help in the fight against one particular bacterial strain.

What is Burkholderia cepacia complex?

Burkholderia cepacian complex (Bcc) are a group of about 20 species of bacteria that are catalase producing, lactose-nonfermenting and Gram negative. They were originally isolated as plant pathogens and are known to attack onion and tobacco plants. But they are also a human pathogen causing opportunistic or nosocomial infections – particularly pneumonia in individuals with an already compromised immune system.

Bcc and CF

Some of the Bcc species are known to pose a significant risk to people with cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis is a disease that causes lung infections due to a build up of mucus in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. It is caused by a faulty gene or mutation – there are over 1700 known mutations that can result in cystic fibrosis.

If a patient with CF gets infected with Bcc, it can result in a rapid decline in lung function that can have serious consequences if not treated. Bcc is resistant to many antibiotics and infections of Bcc are now treated with antibiotic combinations of two or three drugs. But as the paper’s authors state: ‘Due to widespread multidrug resistance in Bcc strains, new treatment options are needed.’

Essential oils – more than nice smelling

Essential oils are complex plant-derived liquids with many properties we are only just discovering. They contain many volatile compounds and some have already shown antimicrobial properties against gastrointestinal infections. The team were interested in testing the antimicrobial properties of essential oils on Bcc strains.

They profiled the essential oils using chromatography – a similar process is discussed in the article, Blue Jacaranda Seed Oil Analysed Using Comprehensive Two Dimensional Liquid Chromatography with Quadruple Parallel Mass Spectrometry. They found that both terpinen-4-ol and geraniol were effective as anti-Bcc agents due to their ability to disrupt the cell membranes of Bcc. They end by reporting that: ‘These essential oils or oil components may ultimately prove useful as therapeutic drugs, for example to treat Bcc infections in CF patients.


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