Bacteria, this spud’s for you

From Los Angeles, at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology

To stop bacteria from making you ill, you may not have to kill them. Just don’t let them stick around, suggest Marjorie M. Cowan of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and her colleagues.

They’ve been studying the common potato, which people have used for centuries to combat skin infections. Other scientists have found potato compounds that kill bacteria, but Cowan’s group wondered whether tubers also contain substances that prevent microbes from adhering to cells.

Indeed, the team found that extracts of material from just under the potato skin block bacterial adhesion. A compound called polyphenol oxidase (PPO), prevalent in potatoes and other plants, may be responsible. “It’s a plant defense mechanism against fungi and insects,” says Cowan. She calls for pharmaceutical companies, which often screen plants for bacteria-killing agents, to also look for compounds that inhibit bacterial adhesion.