Exploring staph-killing properties of French clay

MRSA Bacteria

What makes some clays such powerful antimicrobial agents capable of killing MRSA and other virulent bacteria? It’s a question that UB researchers have been studying for several years.

With funding from the National Institutes of Health–National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the UB geologists are studying the surface characteristics of naturally occurring antimicrobial clays, including some clays from France, to determine why they are such effective killers of bacteria.

Researchers from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, to whom the UB researchers are under subcontract on that grant, have recently shown that French clays can destroy Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus, also called MRSA.

Rossman Giese, professor of geology, and Tracy Bank, assistant professor of geology at UB, are using several techniques to study the French clays, including atomic force microscopy. In particular, they study the weak interactions that are responsible for the stickiness of clay particles. “We look at the attraction or repulsion between natural and modified clays and bacteria,” says Giese.

The UB researchers also have modified and patented Bioclay, a different type of clay that is highly successful in destroying a range of bacterial agents. It will soon be tested against MRSA.

“Our studies show that when we mix a bit of our modified clay at very low levels into sewage sludge that contains all kinds of bacteria, the modified clay kills everything,” says Giese.