Honey produced by a little-known Australian ant carries powerful medicinal properties that could be used to fight harmful bacteria and fungi.
The honeypot ant, found in the deserts of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, produces a honey containing unique antimicrobial properties, according to researchers from the University of Sydney.
Of particular interest to researchers were a class of overfed ants “stuffed with nectar and sugary substances by other worker ants” causing their abdomens to inflate with honey.
They described the ants as “immobile vending machines” for their colonies, regurgitating honey when other food options were scarce.
The ants first captured the attention of First Nations people who have used the crawling critters medicinally for thousands of years.
“We use it for sore throats and sometimes as a topical ointment to help keep infections at bay,” Danny Ulrich from the Tjupan language group said.
Researchers have since confirmed the science behind its therapeutic use, finding the ant’s honey to be effective against a potentially deadly bacterium commonly known as golden staph, and two species of fungi found in soil.
The staphylococcus aureus bacterium can cause infection or in serious cases, death, if it enters through a cut in the skin.
The aspergillus and cryptococcus fungi can also cause serious infection in people with suppressed immune systems.
University of Sydney researcher Dr Kenya Fernandes said the ants’ honey possesses distinctive qualities that sets it apart from other types such as Manuka honey, a well-established topical treatment for wounds and skin infections.
“This discovery means that honeypot ant honey could contain compounds with substantial antimicrobial power,” she said.
“Identifying these could provide us with starting points for developing new and different types of antibiotics.”
Professor Dee Carter from the university’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases said the team is excited to apply the findings to medicine.
“Taking something that has been honed by evolution to work in nature and then applying this to human health is a great way to come up with therapeutic strategies.”
(Australian Associated Press)