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Antibiotic Soil from 1815 Grave May Prove Useful in the Fight Against Superbugs

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  • Tip Bones

It's been a year now since microbiologist Dr. Gerry Quinn discovered that there may be more to a particular folk medicine tradition. This is a legend that comes from Boho, County Fermanagh, regarding the grave of a certain James McGirr in the churchyard of Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church.

Father McGirr, known as a faith healer and the parish priest in 1803, is buried in a plot of land that is supposedly charged with the power of the druids who occupied it before his church, due to the site once housing a Celtic shrine. Just before his death in 1815, McGirr proclaimed that the earth from his grave would have healing properties, able to cure all that he did in life. After McGirr's passing, it became tradition to take a spoonful of the clay soil from his grave, wrap it in cloth, and sleep with it beneath the pillow for healing. After four days, the borrower would return the earth to the grave. This folk remedy is well known in the area, and many swear by it for healing.

As it happens, Dr. Quinn has found more than superstition and faith healing in the grave soil. When he tested a sample from the grave, he found a previously unknown species of streptomyces bacteria, which contained powerful antibodies, and was proven effective against three antibiotic- resistant pathogens. Quinn's hope is that the findings will aid in the development of new antibiotics to fight these dangerous pathogens, which increase in strength as ineffective antibiotics become overused. It is very possible that this discovery will aid in the fight against flesh-eating infections and even MRSA.

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