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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Myrrh Finds a New Role in Fending Off Ship Barnacles

icWales -- A GIFT given to the baby Jesus by one of the three kings is being developed by Welsh scientists to keep barnacles off ships.

Myrrh was one of the presents given to Jesus by Balthazar, the King of Ethiopia.

In ancient times it was valued more highly than gold. Myrrh and frankincense were considered to have had spiritual and medical significance.

Myrrh is a plant resin derived from the thorny desert shrub Commiphora molmol which grows wild in the Horn of Africa.

Somali tribesmen cut the bark of the tree which then exudes a protective resin like a teardrop of amber.

These harden and are periodically harvested as granules by the natives. Not all the trees are harvested at the same time and some are periodically allowed to rest in a cyclical manner following strict traditional tribal rules.

A team of scientists at the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University, led by Professor Delme Bowen of the School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, is researching the plant's qualities for modern uses.

They are already developing slug repellents made from the resin of myrrh, now they are looking at making paints for ships to keep off barnacles.

Prof Bowen said, "Myrrh is renowned as an ancient medicine. The Greeks used to carry myrrh with them into battle and if injured would smear the wounds with myrrh.

"We now know it has strong antibiotic properties. It was used by natives as an incense to repel flies, insect pests and ticks and is used to this day as a rub for horses.

"In medieval times Arab ship builders would seal their boats with myrrh which appeared to prevent wood-boring molluscs from making holes in the wooden hull.

"Even in Victorian times the resin formed part of a recipe used by the Navy to paint and preserve wooden decks.

"From a biological point of view the myrrh tree has evolved the resin over millions of years as a sap or exudate to protect itself if injured.

"It is not surprising that the mixture contains many chemicals of a defensive nature.

"The plant uses these to seal or plug any wounds made in the bark. Many of the natural chemicals in the resin will repel insect pests and attract others to eat the pests in a subtle chemical warfare. Some of the chemicals defend the tree from bacterial and fungal attack and modern chemical analysis shows the mixture to contain antibiotic and antifungal compounds many of which are new to science.

"Research work has shown the resin and some of its extracted chemicals can be used in an anti-fouling paint to protect ships and marine installations and international collaboration is producing significant new formulations.

"These formulations prevent the settlement and growth of barnacles, limpets and other molluscs and hopefully may eventually replace the current toxic products that are based on organo-tin.

"Myrrh also has a golden future in the field of medicine. It is already widely used in herbal prescriptions in Arab, Chinese and Indian medicine."

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