Bacteria that don’t respond to drugs are a growing problem, one for which scientists are rushing to find a solution. Emory University researchers have found a promising solution for MRSA — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus auereus — a sometimes fatal infection that often affects people in hospitals who are already sick or weak.

The answer may be in the berries of an invasive plant called the Brazilian peppertree. The red fruit can be used to block a gene in the MRSA bacteria that allows the tiny organisms to communicate with one another, thus inhibiting collective actions, the university said in a statement.

“Traditional healers in the Amazon have used the Brazilian peppertree for hundreds of years to treat infections of the skin and soft tissues,” researcher and Emory professor Cassandra Quave said in the statement. “We pulled apart the chemical ingredients of the berries and systematically tested them against disease-causing bacteria to uncover a medicinal mechanism of this plant.”

Read: Drug-Resistant Yeast Infection Hits Hospitals

The plant can also be found in Florida as well as some other southern states and, ironically, “is considered a noxious weed,” according to the study in Scientific Reports. But the extract taken from this annoying weed’s berries stopped MRSA-infected mice from growing skin lesions. That’s important because, according to the National Institutes of Health, this type of staph infection often gets into the body through some sort of abrasion, like a cut, and causes a skin infection that comes with redness and swelling. It becomes more dangerous if it gets into the bloodstream or leads to pneumonia.

The newly discovered berry extract “essentially disarms the MRSA bacteria, preventing it from excreting the toxins it uses as weapons to damage tissues,” Quave said. “The body’s normal immune system then stands a better chance of healing a wound.”

According to the study, which also had help from University of Iowa researchers, the berry compound can be used as a tool in “limiting the severity of disease and increasing efficacy of existing antibiotics.”

quave_lyles_emory Cassandra Quave with her lab manager James Lyles, a co-author of the Brazilian peppertree study and a post-doctoral fellow at Emory. Emory University

Drug-resistant bacteria infect millions of people every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate, and kill at least 23,000 annually in the United States. Although antibiotics have saved many lives in the modern era, bacteria have adapted to the drugs, making them less effective.

For the berry extract, the next step could be pre-clinical trials.

The Brazilian peppertree is not the only promising lead doctors have for treating antibiotic-resistant infections. A new antibiotic called teixobactin was derived from microorganisms in soil and kills bacteria without any sign of resistance.

Source: Quave CL, Muhs A, Lyles JT, Parlet CP, Nelson K, Kavanaugh JS and Horswill AR. Virulence Inhibitors from Brazilian Peppertree Block Quorum Sensing and Abate Dermonecrosis in Skin Infection Models. Scientific Reports. 2017.

See also:

Tech Makes Cows Resistant to Tuberculosis

Air Pollution Making Bacteria Drug-Resistant