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Last Updated: Monday, 26 December 2005, 18:10 GMT
Sponge puzzles superbug experts
The sponge could prove vital in eradicating MRSA, experts say
A simple household sponge appears to be an effective weapon against hospital superbug MRSA - but experts are baffled as to exactly why.

Tests on new anti-MRSA antibiotics show the microbes thrived on one kitchen scourer, but not others.

Researchers at Heriot Watt University want to know why the sponge is so effective at producing antibiotics.

The sponge is sold only at supermarket chain Morrisons, which said it was investigating who made the sponge.

Brian Austin, a professor of microbiology at the university, discovered the bacteria earlier this year growing on fucus seaweed in the Firth of Forth.

An antibiotic powerful enough to kill MRSA clearly has lots of potential
Prod Brian Austin
Heriot Watt University

His research team were surprised to find it produced a powerful chemical that attacked and ate the superbug.

Prof Austin said: "We want to speak to the manufacturers to find out what's special about these sponges.

"Why won't the bacteria produce these antibiotics on any other supermarket sponges?

"It could be something very subtle like how shiny the surface is. We're keen to take the study further as an antibiotic powerful enough to kill MRSA clearly has lots of potential."

Clinical trials

The researchers' trials showed the protein could even kill deadly food poisoning infection Listeria.

They began cultivating the bacteria in glass containers of meat broth in the university laboratory.

But the microbes would only yield the special antibiotic when grown on discs of the Morrisons kitchen sponge, as no other brand placed in the broth would work.

Now experts want to speak to the makers of the polyurethane scouring pads.

Prof Austin, who is the university's dean of science and engineering, added: "Although we're still about 10 years away from putting this antibiotic through clinical trials, it could have a major impact on infection control in hospitals."

Morrisons said it was investigating who had manufactured the sponge.

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