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welcome to the plant power trail

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a natural process where microbes evolve so that antimicrobials can’t stop them from reproducing or kill them. Antimicrobials can be naturally occurring, as when they are plant-derived, or partly man-made, as with most medicines or pharmaceutical drugs. Antimicrobials come in forms that work against bacteria (antibiotics), viruses (antivirals), fungi (antifungals), and other microbes.

AMR means that infections that could usually be treated with antimicrobials can make people get seriously ill, or even die. We often call these antimicrobial-resistant microbes superbugs. Because AMR is a natural thing, with some microbes resistant to antibiotics from the get-go, to some extent it is inevitable. You might think we shouldn’t even bother to work against a natural process that’s been going on for millennia.

But the problem of AMR has been growing worse much more quickly in the last hundred years because of the way humans have used antimicrobials and antimicrobial-like chemicals in the environment, in farming, and in health care. We’re speeding up the process of microbial adaptation to antimicrobials. The more we use antimicrobials—especially when we don’t need them—the more dangerous it will be in the future for all of us to be exposed to infectious diseases or even to go to the hospital to get minor surgeries, for which we’d usually receive antibiotics to prevent infection.

To help address the problem of AMR, we can learn a lot from how plants have developed their own antimicrobials, how these have been used in traditional medicine and more recent antibiotic innovation.

We should think about the ethical questions that come up relating to AMR. We should note, though, that while there are lots of plants that have been used for health historically or currently, there hasn’t been very much testing at all of these plant-derived antimicrobials in humans, so we don’t know whether they would work to treat diseases in hospitals and communities. Lab work is being done, but more work is needed to confirm antimicrobial properties of many of the plants we will talk about today.

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The information in this web page connects to a walking trail at the Oxford Botanic Garden. If you haven't got a paper copy of the brochure with basic information about this trail, feel free to follow along with this pdf or pick one up from the entrance office.

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Thanks for visiting the 'Plant Power! Stop the superbugs' trail. Please tell us what you think of the trail on our feedback form - we'd love to hear from you.

Interested in more info on AMR?

  • You might check out this video on the history and uses of antibiotics, for a start. 
  • Find out more about what NHS Health Education has been doing to support AMR education in the UK.
  • If you're an educator, you'll find more useful resources at the eBug website.

This Trail was designed by Dr Tess Johnson.

Funded by                       Delivered in partnership with Oxford Botanic Garden

Wellcome logoPlant Power - Stop the Superbugs is delivered in partnership with Oxford Botanic Garden.