The rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria is creating issues for pharmaceutical companies and medical practitioners to slow the development of strains of bacteria. Experts believe that in the next 10 to 20 years we will return to a ‘pre-antibiotic’ era, where easily treated infections could become fatal again. Four sixth form students and ten year 10 students from Boroughbridge High School embarked on a project in the autumn of 2012 to explore the efficacy of the antimicrobial properties of essential oils to examine whether they could be used to treat infections caused by bacteria resistant to conventional antibiotics, but also whether bacteria have the capability to become resistant to the antimicrobial effects of essential oils.

See the students of Boroughbridge Highschool explain the science behind their exhibit in the video above

How it works

There is increasing evidence suggesting some essential oils have antimicrobial properties that can be used to create complementary and alternative medicines. The students worked with academics from Harrogate District Hospital to test five essential oil products against E.coli and Coagulase-negative S. epidermidis bacteria.

Cultures of the bacteria were grown and exposed to decreasing concentrations of oil to measure the minimum concentration of oil needed to kill the bacteria. The bacteria were then grown in concentrations of oil too low to kill them off.

This was conducted over several weeks to create bacteria resistant to the essential oils. The bacteria was then tested again to measure if the concentration of oil needed to kill them increased, showing more resistant strains were beginning to evolve.

The students will present their findings and how they conducted their research, at the exhibition.

Lead image: Low-temperature electron micrograph of a cluster of E. coli bacteria, magnified 10,000 times. Each individual bacterium is oblong shaped.