Unearthing the Antibacterial Mechanism of Medicinal Clay: A Geochemical Approach to Combating Antibiotic Resistance
Natural antibacterial clays, when hydrated and applied topically, kill human pathogens including antibiotic resistant strains proliferating worldwide. Only certain clays are bactericidal; those containing soluble reduced metals and expandable clay minerals that absorb cations, providing a capacity for extended metal release and production of toxic hydroxyl radicals. Here we show the critical antibacterial components are soluble Fe2+ and Al3+ that synergistically attack multiple cellular systems in pathogens normally growth-limited by Fe supply. This geochemical process is more effective than metal solutions alone and provides an alternative antibacterial strategy to traditional antibiotics. Advanced bioimaging methods and genetic show that Al3+ misfolds cell membrane proteins, while Fe2+ evokes membrane oxidation and enters the cytoplasm inflicting hydroxyl radical attack on intracellular proteins and DNA. The lethal reaction precipitates Fe3+-oxides as biomolecular damage proceeds. Discovery of this bactericidal mechanism demonstrated by natural clays should guide designs of new mineral-based antibacterial agents.
The emergence of antibiotic resistant human pathogens has accelerated inquiries into alternative antibacterial compounds1,2,3,4,5,6. Bacteria rapidly establish resistance against traditional antibiotics that target specific cellular mechanisms DNA replication, protein and cell wall synthesis2. As a result, alternative mineral-based therapies against bacterial infections have gained attention3,4,5,6,7,8,9. Clays, although used for medicinal purposes throughout millennia, have remained largely unstudied for their applications and reported medical benefits4,5,6. Documented use of reduced metal-rich clays in healing necrotizing fasciitis6, commonly known as ‘flesh eating bacteria’, led to our research on the geochemical properties of antibacterial minerals. When tested against a broad spectrum of human pathogens, it was shown that certain clays also kill antibiotic resistant pathogens including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)6.
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