The worldwide emergence of infectious diseases, together with the increasing incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, elevate the need to properly detect, prevent, and effectively treat these infections. The overuse and misuse of common antibiotics in recent decades stimulates the need to identify new inhibitory agents. Therefore, natural products like clays, that display antibacterial properties, are of particular interest.
The absorptive properties of clay minerals are well documented for healing skin and gastrointestinal ailments. However, the antibacterial properties of clays have received less scientific attention. French green clays have recently been shown to heal Buruli ulcer, a necrotic or ‘flesh-eating’ infection caused by Mycobacterium ulcerans. Assessing the antibacterial properties of these clays could provide an inexpensive treatment for Buruli ulcer and other skin infections.
Antimicrobial testing of the two clays on a broad-spectrum of bacterial pathogens showed that one clay promotes bacterial growth (possibly provoking a response from the natural immune system), while another kills bacteria or significantly inhibits bacterial growth. This paper compares the mineralogy and chemical composition of the two French green clays used in the treatment of Buruli ulcer.
Mineralogically, the two clays are dominated by 1Md illite and Fe-smectite. Comparing the chemistry of the clay minerals and exchangeable ions, we conclude that the chemistry of the clay, and the surface properties that affect pH and oxidation state, control the chemistry of the water used to moisten the clay poultices and contribute the critical antibacterial agent(s) that ultimately debilitate the bacteria.