Barberry bush beats bacteria

  • Fremont barberry bush

    Evan Cantor illustration
  A compound from a barberry bush found on Colorado's Western Slope is helping researchers fight antibiotic resistance. Some bacteria, particularly those that cause staph infections, can become resistant to antibiotics by pumping the drug out of cells before it begins to work. Colorado State University professor Frank Stermitz and Tufts University professor Kim Lewis discovered that the prickly-leafed Fremont barberry contains methoxyhydnocarpin or MHC. The compound prevents berberine, a natural antibiotic found in plants in the Berberis genus, as well as some synthetic antibiotics from being pumped out of cells. "So, we've attacked the means by which the bacteria becomes resistant to the antibiotic," Stermitz says. Extracts from the Oregon grape bush also enhance the potency of berberine. Stermitz has studied more than 100 other plants in the western United States to find antidotes for livestock poisonings. "I've been doing research since 1967," Stermitz says, "and I've found lots of interesting things that may be important for livestock, but nothing for human health - until now."

For more information about research at the Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station, call 970/491-6432 or check out

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