Students and staff from the University of Texas at San Antonio are buzzing about some pretty sweet research happening at their campus on the healing properties of local honey.

That research is being performed by Ferhat Ozturk, an assistant professor in the UTSA College of Sciences’ Department of Integrative Biology. He is studying the antibacterial properties of Texas honey samples.

Ozturk, a Turkey native who’s in his second year teaching at UTSA, hopes to find a local honey that can compete with medical-grade honeys from around the world. Most modern medical honey, also known as “manuka” honey, comes from Australia and New Zealand. None are currently sourced from the U.S.

He’s including his students in his research process.

“So right now I’m not doing [the research] by myself, but I’m also teaching my students how to do research,” Ozturk said. “We are focusing on antimicrobial properties of local honey, and we are focusing on some pathogenic bacteria that cause diseases like the staph infection.”

Thus far Ozturk has collected about 60 honey samples from across Texas, 35 of which are from the San Antonio area. Ozturk’s students have learned to spread micro amounts of bacteria on Petri dishes, allowing them to grow for a few days before introducing different honey samples and observing the effects.

Caroline Muniz, a sophomore psychology student in Ozturk’s class, said she and the other students are just now testing samples of honey after spending several weeks practicing with advanced lab equipment like micropipettes — measuring tools to handle volumes of liquid in the microliter scale.

“Dr. Ozturk is a really passionate researcher, I can see it in the way he talks about honey,” Muniz said. “He’s also really passionate about teaching; he’s taken the time to show us how to do everything.”

Dr. Ferhat Ozturk mixes an agar solution at University of Texas at San Antonio Tuesday.
Dr. Ferhat Ozturk mixes an agar solution, used to help feed and grow bacteria, at the University of Texas at San Antonio on Tuesday. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Ozturk first became interested in honey as a healing agent while doing postdoctoral research on cleft palates, a birth deformity that occurs when a baby’s mouth does not form properly during gestation. Cleft palates form similarly to how wounds heal, Ozturk said, which is why he was researching wound care intensely when he came across honey as medicine.

“When it comes to wound care, I found out honey is one of the best healers on the market,” Ozturk told the San Antonio Report. Since then, Ozturk has been studying and experimenting with honey for more than a decade. “I started as a volunteer scientist at UTSA because I was a high school teacher before here, at the [School of Science and Technology]. I’ve always been interested in honey research, and I was looking for labs where I can use some advanced equipment.”

Following a postdoctoral fellowship at Creighton University and a position as a research associate at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, Ozturk was invited back to his hometown of Samsun, Turkey by the president of Canik Basari University to be an assistant professor and the department chair of the university’s department of molecular biology and genetics. From there, Ozturk became a high school teacher in the San Antonio area.

Ozturk believes honey could play a major role in fighting superbugs — strains of bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics. An example of this would be methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA — a type of staph infection that is very difficult to treat and is becoming more common in hospital settings.

That’s why he’s searching for a medical grade honey that exceeds the anitbacterial results of those currently on the market.

Not all honey is created equally, he said. While all honey has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antioxidant and anti-aging properties, some work better against certain ailments. Buckwheat honeys, for example, are more potent compared to lighter-colored honeys when it comes to fighting bacteria, he said.

Dr. Ferhat Ozturk keeps many samples of honey in his office from local and statewide beekeepers.
Dr. Ferhat Ozturk keeps many samples of honey in his office from local and statewide beekeepers for testing. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

“When people ask me, ‘Which honey I should get?’ In terms of taste and aroma, I cannot tell you which is the best,” Ozturk said with a laugh. “But if you want me to tell you about the medical grade of it — I’m testing that now.”

Whether one eats it, puts it on a wound or uses it as a face mask, honey has almost magical properties, he said. Ozturk added that he hopes his research prompts people to protect the bees, which have arguably been called “the most important species on earth” in recent years for their pollination activity.

“I believe this will raise more awareness about the value of honeybees,” he said.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...