Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science are investigating garlic in a bid to uncover some of the herb's health-giving secrets.

Focusing on allicin, the strong-smelling compound that serves to repel insects, fungi and bacteria in the soil, the scientists are hoping to find a new "wonder drug" in the same league as aspirin.

Biochemist David Mirelman is heading the four-person team that has cloned the gene for allicin, synthesized and stabilized it. He commented: "I isolated each of the components in garlic to see if they were effective against a battery of micro-organisms and found the most effective component was allicin. It was highly effective at killing a wide range of micro-organisms from fungi to bacteria and malaria."

Mirelman explained that he became interested in garlic after a Chinese physician explained to him the usefulness of the herb in curing dysentery.  A number of scientific studies have also shown allicin to be highly effective against high blood pressure, diabetes, and diarrhoea. It can lower the risk of heart attacks, kill cancer cells and laboratory tests have also showed how the compound prevents weight gain in rats.