Modern medicine is busy concocting an array of synthetic drugs to treat what ails us, but often times we don’t need to look further than what Mother Nature already has on hand.

This simple concept was recently brought to bear with a study published in Cell Research that reveals that the honeysuckle molecule MIR2911 targets influenza A viruses (IAVs). The scientists say their study is the first to show that a natural product can directly attack a virus, although it has not yet been proven to be effective in humans.

Lead researcher Chen-Yu Zhang said, "This work is important because it identifies a plant molecule as the first, active component directly targeting influenza A virus.”

Ever since penicillin was discovered, we have had antibiotics to fight bacterial infections, but a natural product effective against viruses has remained elusive. Dubbing the boiled concentration of honeysuckle a "viral penicillin," the researchers from Nanjing University School of Life Sciences in China found that when mice were given the mixture, it directly blocked viral infection. The plant molecule appears to work by targeting the two genes that are needed for the virus to spread. It helped prevent infection with flu types including H1N1 (swine flu), and helped reduce death in mice from H5N1 (avian flu).

The researchers think the breakthrough could revolutionize the way we fight the flu virus and that we are now a step closer to creating a cure for flu, a virus that mutates so quickly it rapidly becomes resistant to treatments and vaccines.

"The plant molecule is ideal for suppressing IAV infection, and it is fully expected that the molecule-enriched honeysuckle decoction, will be widely used for treatment of IAVs infection," said Zhang.

Professor John Oxford, Britain's leading flu expert, said that it’s intriguing research but it remains to be seen whether or not it proves effective in humans.

"It's good that someone is working on plants at a molecular level,” said Oxford. “This piece of work is better than most and they have some animal data and have also linked levels of the active drug in tissue after drinking the extract.”

"They have got a long way to go to jump from this to human experiments,” Oxford added. “But the synthetic power of these plants appears to far exceed anything we can make. I still don't think the evidence here is going to revolutionize the world, but it is interesting stuff and I am pleased that someone is working on it and we should keep our finger's crossed and let's hope it works."

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New study is first to show that a natural product can directly target a virus.