Zinc is one of the very best anti-bacterial agents around – and scientists have discovered this week how it works, even against some of the deadliest bacteria that cause pneumonia and meningitis.

The essential mineral starves the bacteria by blocking its ability to scavenge for manganese in the body, which weakens it and makes the job of the immune system so much easier.

Scientists at the University of Adelaide have observed the way that zinc interplays with one of the deadliest bacteria, Streptococcus pneumoniae, which kills more than one million people a year by causing pneumonia, meningitis and other serious infectious diseases.

But the bacteria need to feed off manganese, an essential metal, in order to thrive and attack the body. Zinc interferes with that process, and stops manganese reaching the bacteria.

(Source: Nature Chemical Biology, 2013; doi: 10.1038/nchembio.1382)