A Possible Alternative to Antibiotics

May 22, 2017
Kevin Hattori

Technion researchers demonstrate high effectiveness of a combination of metals and organic acids in eradicating bacteria

Antibiotics are an effective means of treating bacterial contamination. But extensive use of antibiotic substances in medicine and agriculture has resulted in increasingly antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that humanity is approaching the post-antibiotic era – a world in which antibiotics will no longer be effective, and even minute contaminations will threaten our lives.

Technion Assistant Professor Oded Lewinson (seated) and graduate student Daniel Zhitnitsky

Now, encouraging research that combines metals and organic acids as a viable alternative to antibiotics is being conducted at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The findings by a team led by Assistant Professor Oded Lewinson in the Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine were recently published in Nature Scientific Reports.

Numerous alternatives to antibiotics are already being tested by researchers around the world. Two of these are the use of metals such as silver, zinc, and copper (which were used in ancient Egypt and Greece for treating infection and purifying water sources), and the use of organic acids such as food acid that is used as a preservative in the food industry.

In their research, Lewinson and his team combined organic acids and metals at a low concentration, and found that the combination is extremely effective in eradicating pathogenic bacteria such as cholera, salmonella, and pseudomonas, as well as eliminating bacteria that attack agricultural crops such as tomatoes, melons, and apples.

“Combining these two types of substances is far more effective than using each one separately,” said Lewinson. “Called ‘synergistic inhibition’, this combination enables the use of extremely low concentrations of metals and food acids for preserving food and spraying crops.” He added that lowering the concentration of the substances has significant positive implications for the environment and human health.

The research was conducted by graduate student Daniel Zhitnitsky and post-doctorate Jessica Rose, under the direction of Lewinson.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is a major source of the innovation and brainpower that drives the Israeli economy, and a key to Israel’s renown as the world’s “Start-Up Nation.” Its three Nobel Prize winners exemplify academic excellence. Technion people, ideas and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world including life-saving medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation and nanotechnology. The Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute is a vital component of Cornell Tech, and a model for graduate applied science education that is expected to transform New York City’s economy.

American Technion Society (ATS) donors provide critical support for the Technion—more than $2 billion since its inception in 1940. Based in New York City, the ATS and its network of supporters across the U.S. provide funds for scholarships, fellowships, faculty recruitment and chairs, research, buildings, laboratories, classrooms and dormitories, and more.