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Stone-age solution to fight MRSA12th of July 2013
A plant first used by prehistoric man 32,000 years ago to make clothes, twine and other equipment may now be put to a vital new use in today's hospitals, according to scientists.
Researchers have found that fibres from the common flax plant can kill bacteria when treated with light-sensitive dyes and exposed to red light.
Academics at the University of Brighton in East Sussex say the approach could be used to fight hospital infections by reducing bacterial contamination - including MRSA - on bed linen and patients' clothing.
Flax is said to have a greater capacity for absorbing some light-sensitive dyes than cotton, which is the most commonly-used material for hospital bed linen and clothing. After stimulation with red light the dyes produce reactive oxygen species (ROS).
These are chemically-reactive molecules containing oxygen that attack and kill bacteria by several different mechanisms. According to researchers this means the bacteria is less likely to develop resistance to treatment as they can with antibiotics.
Dr Iain Allan, senior research fellow at the University of Brighton, said: "Using flax with absorbed reactive dye could benefit patient care in hospitals where there is ambient red light installed - and this could reduce the microbial burden on linen and clothes."
Flax fibre technology first emerged in hunter-gatherer societies as early as 32,000 years ago. Excavation teams to Georgia's Dzudzuana Cave in 2007 and 2008 discovered soil samples containing more than 1,000 wild flax fibres.
Experts believe early cave-dwellers used the flax to develop cord-making techniques and to create warm, durable clothing and other equipment needed for trekking into Siberia.