CONICET, Argentina’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council, is a government agency that directs and coordinates most of the scientific and technical research within the country. Two of its scientists, Patricia Vázquez and Romina Arreche, have been working on a project to target two of the bacteria that kill thousands of people each year and have presented some of the most widespread harm to human health across Argentina and the globe: Escherichia coli and Streptococcus.
Vázquez and Arreche, who had been leading a CONICET program to economize medical processes without generating pollution and to reduce waste, made a brilliant breakthrough. They were able to extract an antimicrobial product from yerba mate, one that could prove key in treating these dangerous bacteria.
During their research, the scientists performed tests on mate residues, and proved that these could actually generate an inhibition within the bacteria itself.
When describing the scientific process of their research, Romina Arreche, a CONICET postdoctoral fellow and the primary investigator in the project, stated: “We left 10 grams of yerba in a container with 100 milliliters of water at 70 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes, the estimated time that people generally do so.” According to Arreche, as a result of this process, a liquid extract was removed from the mate that presented bioactive properties.
She emphasized that this liquid was used as a culture medium for the two bacteria: Escherichia coli, which typically inhabits the intestine of humans and some animals, but also has a number of harmful strains; and Staphylococcus aureus, generally responsible for causing skin infections. It can also produce a wide range of diseases, from cutaneous and mucosal infections, such as folliculitis or conjunctivitis, to high-risk diseases including deep abscesses, osteomyelitis, meningitis, sepsis, endocarditis or pneumonia.
At the end of the investigation, neither of the bacteria was able to reproduce normally. In other words, the mate extract had worked to inhibit the pathogenic microorganisms. While more extensive studies have yet to be carried out, this discovery could represent a huge breakthrough in finding natural remedies to combat a number of different widespread diseases harmful to human health—especially in more rural, impoverished communities that have scarce and uncertain access to healthcare services.