Madhavi Gavini is a student at a math/science high school in Mississippi, the Mississippi Institute of Math and Science. At age 14 she got interested in cystic fibrosis, especially the lung infections that kill many people suffering from CF:
It was that thirst for knowledge that drove Madhavi to search for a way to help a friend with cystic fibrosis. “I found out that most people who have CF die of pseudomonas infections,” she recalls, “so I wanted to see if there was anything I could do to help.” She was 14 at the time. “I guess the thought that a 14-year-old can’t really do much to help, didn’t really occur to me,” she says with a shrug.
Pseudomonas bacteria — in addition to killing people with cystic fibrosis — can cause deadly secondary infections in people with immune-suppressing conditions such as AIDS, cancer and severe burns. This opportunistic pathogen forms a thick, protective layer around itself, making it nearly impossible for antibiotics to penetrate and destroy it. (link)
That’s the background. Interestingly, the technique she used to find a way to kill the Pseudomonas bacteria started with Ayurvedic medicine:
With an herb book from her grandparents as her guide, Madhavi sampled common grocery store and green houseplants, such as cinnamon, ginger and aloe. She obtained a strain of pseudomonas bacteria from the local university and began subjecting the germs to various plant extracts.
One of the common tropical plant extracts penetrated the bacterium’s protective layer. Next, Madhavi isolated the specific molecule in the extract that was able to inhibit bacterial growth. She found that the molecule was heat resistant, and resistant to pressure. “It kills the cell,” she explains, “by preventing the transcription of the genes involved in energy, metabolism, adaptation, membrane transport, and toxin secretion.” (link)
The herb she started with, incidentally, is Terminalia Chebula, known in Sanskrit as Haritaki. As for which molecule exactly kills the biofilm that protects the Pseudomonas, the coverage I’ve read doesn’t say.