Beards May Hold the Answer to New Antibiotics


After swabbing 20 beards, more than 100 bacteria growths were identified.

With antibiotic resistance on the rise and new antibiotics far and few between, the need for novel medications is as serious as ever. But research from the University College London (UCL) may have found an unlikely answer: beards.

“What we’ve done as a human species is to basically coat the world in antibiotics by our overuse and inappropriate use. So, we’ve selected for these resistance mechanisms in the bacteria, so it’s why we’re seeing the problem that we’re seeing now,” Adam Roberts, PhD, a microbiologist from the UCL, said in a news release.

So what do beards have to do with antibiotics? Previous research has shown that beards contained fecal bacteria. The researchers from UCL wanted to confirm if this was true, and so they conducted a study of their own. They did not find evidence of fecal bacteria in beards; however, they took the data to further evaluate different bacteria.

After swabbing 20 beards, more than 100 bacteria growths were identified.

“What we do is grid out the individual bacteria on an agar plate which has been pre-inoculated with an indicator strain. And then we see if that indicator strain can grow right up to the individual colonies from the beards or from anywhere else that we’ve got these bacteria from,” Roberts explained.

He went on to reveal, “we found, quite surprisingly, that the beard isolates were quite capable of killing the indicator strain that we have; showing that they actually produce antibiotics themselves.”

About 25% of the 20 beards proved to have antibiotic activity against the indicator strain.

The UCL team continues to dig further into antibiotic-resistant bacteria and strategies to develop new medications to fight the epidemic. Roberts says that by developing new antibiotics, it will give health care providers the opportunity to limit the use so that bacteria won’t become resistance. He’s asked the public for samples in order to gather more information.

“We’ve got other samples from all over the country; from child’s trampolines, to fridges, to cats,” Roberts continued. “We’ve now got a selection of around 50 different bacteria which can kill multiple indicator strains. These include E. coli — a multi-drug resistant E. coli from a urinary tract infection. These include also Candida albicans (yeast infections) and MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).”

New antibiotics could be on the way… with a little help from beards.

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