The answer to the threat from drug-resistant superbugs may have been found in green tea, scientists have revealed.

A series of experiments showed that an antibiotic which is proving increasingly useless against serious infections regained its effectiveness when used with an agent found in large quantities in the drink.

Researchers at the University of Surrey combined epigallocatechin (EGCG) with the antibiotic, finding the combination was up to 31 per cent more effective at killing off harmful bacteria compared to the drug antibiotic alone.

A type of catechin, or natural phenol antioxidant, EGCG also occurs in smaller quantities in black tea leaves, as well as apple skins, plums and onions.

Published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology, the study focused on P. aeruginosa, the bug behind a number of serious respiratory and bloodstream infections.

In recent years the pathogen has become increasingly resistant to aztreonam, the principal antibiotic used to treat it.

However, the laboratory tests on moths and on human skin cells in a dish showed EGCG soften up the bacteria, making it easier for the antibiotics to penetrate and destroy them.

The successful experiments have raised hopes that the agent could be developed for routine use on patients.

[ read more from Henry Bodkin / ]