Background: Medical grade manuka honeys are well known to be efficacious against Pseudomonas aeruginosa being bactericidal and inhibiting the development of biofilms; moreover manuka honey effectively kills P. aeruginosa embedded within an established biofilm. Sustained honey resistance has not been previously documented for planktonic or biofilm P. aeruginosa.
Methods: Minimum inhibitory concentrations for manuka honey and antibiotics were determined using broth micro-dilution methods. Minimum biofilm eliminating concentrations (MBEC) and biofilm biomass were determined using the crystal violet method. Sub-culture used non-selective media and the grid-plate method.
Results: When honey treated biofilm biomass of two strains of P. aeruginosa (reference strain ATCC 9027 and the clinical isolate 867) were sub-cultured onto non-selective media isolates emerged that exhibited reduced susceptibility to manuka honey. Significantly, this characteristic was sustained with repeated sub-culture onto non-selective media resulting in increased minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) of between 5-7% (w/v) and increased minimum biofilm eliminating concentrations (MBEC) of up to 15% (w/v). Interestingly the resistant isolates showed reduced susceptibility to antibiotic treatment with rifampicin and imipenem as well as being more prolific biofilm-formers than the progenitor strains.
Conclusions: P. aeruginosa biofilms treated with manuka honey equivalent to the MBEC harbour slow growing, viable persistor organisms that exhibit sustained, increased resistance to manuka honey and antibiotic treatment, suggesting a shared mechanism of resistance. This sheds new light on the propensity for biofilm embedded organisms to resist honey treatment and become persistor organisms that are tolerant to other antimicrobial therapies.