Unraveling the antibacterial mode of action of a clay from the Colombian Amazon

Sandra Carolina Londono, Lynda Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Natural antibacterial clays can inhibit growth of human pathogens; therefore, understanding the antibacterial mode of action may lead to new applications for health. The antibacterial modes of action have shown differences based on mineralogical constraints. Here we investigate a natural clay from the Colombian Amazon (AMZ) known to the Uitoto natives as a healing clay. The physical and chemical properties of the AMZ clay were compared to standard reference materials: smectite (SWy-1) and kaolinite (API #5) that represent the major minerals in AMZ. We tested model Gram-negative (Escherichia coli ATCC #25922) and Gram-positive (Bacillus subtilis ATCC #6633) bacteria to assess the clay’s antibacterial effectiveness against different bacterial types. The chemical and physical changes in the microbes were examined using bioimaging and mass spectrometry of clay digests and aqueous leachates. Results indicate that a single dose of AMZ clay (250 mg/mL) induced a 4–6 order of magnitude reduction in cell viability, unlike the reference clays that did not impact bacterial survival. AMZ clay possesses a relatively high specific surface area (51.23 m2/g) and much higher total surface area (278.82 m2/g) than the reference clays. In aqueous suspensions (50 mg clay/mL water), soluble metals are released and the minerals buffer fluid pH between 4.1 and 4.5. We propose that the clay facilitates chemical interactions detrimental to bacteria by absorbing nutrients (e.g., Mg, P) and potentially supplying metals (e.g., Al) toxic to bacteria. This study demonstrates that native traditional knowledge can direct scientific studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)363-379
Number of pages17
JournalEnvironmental Geochemistry and Health
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2016


  • Antibacterial clay
  • Bacillus subtilis
  • Escherichia coli
  • Medical geology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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