Tea tree oil has broad-spectrum in vitro antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity
Tea tree oil is the essential oil steam distilled from the Australian plant Melaleuca alternifolia. It has also been known as melaleuca oil. The M. alternifolia species is unique to Australia and native to Northern New South Wales. Tea tree oil contains over 100 components, mostly monoterpenes, sesquiterpenes and their alcohols. The component terpinen-4-ol is the most abundant (minimum 30%) and is said to be responsible for most of the antimicrobial activity. Levels of 14 components, including terpinen-4-ol are stipulated in the International Standard for Oil of Melaleuca, Terpinen-4-ol type (ISO 4730).
The primary aim of the group is to investigate and characterise the medicinal properties of tea tree oil, in particular the antimicrobial properties. So far the group has shown that tea tree oil has broad-spectrum in vitro antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity. Laboratory studies are ongoing and some clinical work has also begun. These studies are critical if tea tree oil is to be accepted as a topical antimicrobial agent.
The research group is involved in a range of diverse tea tree oil projects. Professor Riley's group are currently investigating the effects of tea tree oil on biofilm formation and the efficacy of tea tree oil in clearing MRSA-positive wounds.