Singaporean research has revealed that a special molecule acts to augment the antibacterial activity of methylglyoxal in manuka honey – a process known as synergy.  

The research was commissioned by Watson and Son, a major New Zealand producer of manuka honey, in collaboration with Professor Peter Molan of Waikato University’s honey research unit.

The unique type of antibacterial activity in manuka honey was discovered in research at the University of Waikato in 1982. Evidence showed manuka’s special antibacterial properties were effective at healing wounds, but research also showed that this activity was present in only some manuka honeys.

Last year, Waikato University Associate Professor Merilyn Manley-Harris of the Chemistry Department, showed that methylglyoxal was responsible for the antibacterial activity in manuka honey.

However Prof Molan had long maintained there was also a synergy at work in the honey and last October, New Zealand beekeeper-chemist Denis Watson commissioned a specialist research laboratory in Singapore to investigate several active fractions in manuka honey. Watson is one of New Zealand’s largest manuka producers. In partnership with iwi groups in the Far North he has more than 15,000 beehives in manuka plantations around New Zealand.

The results have proven the existence of a formerly secret synergist: a special molecule that combines with the methylglyoxal molecule and other fractions in the honey to create the very powerful antibacterial activity the honey is world famous for. The discovery is also the key to understanding why the clinically proven antibacterial activity is so effective and why international research to date has shown that bacteria fail to develop the resistance that is inevitable with conventional antibiotics.

Research is now underway in a special project between Waikato University’s Honey Research Unit and Watson and Son to confirm the mode of action of the synergist and to further understand its interaction with other fractions including methylglyoxal.

The industry is worth in excess of $100 million in export earnings, but not all manuka honeys are equal and the way to test potency has been an issue for some time.

Meanwhile, WaikatoLink, the research commercialisation division of the University of Waikato, will launch a new global consumer standard for manuka honey later this month. The standard will give consumers complete assurance as to what they’re buying and will use Prof Molan’s name, says WaikatoLink Commercial Manager Fraser Smith.

 By FoodWeek Online

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