Leaves of the European chestnut tree contain ingredients with the power to disarm dangerous staph bacteria without boosting its drug resistance, scientists have found.

PLOS ONE is publishing the study of a chestnut leaf extract, rich in ursene and oleanene derivatives, that blocks Staphlococcus aureus virulence and pathogenesis without detectable resistance.

The use of chestnut leaves in traditional folk remedies inspired the research, led by Cassandra Quave, an ethnobotanist at Emory University.

“We’ve identified a family of compounds from this plant that have an interesting medicinal mechanism,” Quave says. “Rather than killing staph, this botanical extract works by taking away staph’s weapons, essentially shutting off the ability of the bacteria to create toxins that cause tissue damage. In other words, it takes the teeth out of the bacteria’s bite.”

The discovery holds potential for new ways to both treat and prevent infections of methicillin-resistant S. aureus, or MRSA, without fueling the growing problem of drug-resistant pathogens.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria annually cause at least two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MRSA infections lead to everything from mild skin irritations to fatalities. Evolving strains of this “super bug” bacterium pose threats to both hospital patients with compromised immune systems and young, healthy athletes and others who are in close physical contact.

“We’ve demonstrated in the lab that our extract disarms even the hyper-virulent MRSA strains capable of causing serious infections in healthy athletes,” Quave says. “At the same time, the…

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