Investigating Jordan's antibiotic soil

Researchers working in the ancient fields of what is now Jordan have proven correct the folklore that rubbing the area's "red soils" on the skin can cure diaper rash and other infections.

Investigating the antibiotic properties of the soil, under an ICBG grant, the team led by Dr. Nicholas Oberlies of the Research Triangle Institute found that injecting the bacteria M. luteus and S. aureus beneath the soil's surface led to production of antimicrobial compounds.

There was no evidence of inherent antibiotic activity in the soil itself, and because lab experiments induced a compound that fights the staphylococcus found on human skin, they suggested in the May issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology that "application of Red Soils to an infected area of skin... leads to the proliferation of bacteria that produce antibiotic compounds, killing the infecting skin microbiota."

Areial photo showing red soils of Jordan
Photo courtesy of Google Earth

Jordan’s red soil has long been thought to contain
properties that can cure skin infections. Now,
Fogarty’s International Cooperative Biodiversity
Groups program has published a study verifying
age-old anecdotes.

They said their data "provide a rationale for the traditional use of Jordan's red soils for the treatment of skin infections, including diaper rash."

The researchers said the mechanism by which the antibiotics are created remains unknown but they have found bacteria in the experiments that may be the source.

Such studies are important, they said, because of the rapid and deadly emergence of resistant staph infections in hospitals and the need for cheap, effective antibiotics to fight infectious diseases in developing countries.


Falkinham JO, Wall TE, Tanner JR, Tawaha K, Alali FQ, Li C, et al. Proliferation of Antibiotic-Producing Bacteria and Concomitant Antibiotic Production as the Basis for the Antibiotic Activity of Jordan's Red Soils. Applied and environmental microbiology. 2009 May;75(9):2735-41.

Adapted from the May / June 2009 Global Health Matters article Experiments in the red soils of Jordan identify potential cures for skin infections.

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