Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the John Innes Centre (JIC) have discovered a new antibiotic which could be used to help fight MRSA.
The researchers discovered the antibiotic from bacteria found on the African fungus-growing plant-ant Tetraponera penzigi. The new species of bacterium was named Streptomyces formicae, with the antibiotics being given the name formicamycins, after the Latin word formica, meaning ant.
Importantly the new antibiotic could be used to help fight MRSA and Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE), two types of bacteria which are resistant to a number of common antibiotics. Anti-microbial resistance (AMR) is currently highlighted as one of the biggest threats to the global population. If not addressed properly, it’s estimated that by 2050, AMR infections will cause more deaths than cancer.
Prof Barrie Wilkinson from JIC said: “Our findings highlight the importance of searching as-yet under-explored environments, which, when combined with recent advances in genome sequencing and editing, enables the discovery of new species making natural product antibiotics which could prove invaluable in the fight against AMR.”
A large majority of antibiotics currently in use were discovered during the ‘golden age’ of antibiotics discovery , some 40-80 years ago. Now because of widespread misuse of antibiotics, disease-casusing bacteria and fungi have become resistant to one or more antibiotics.
Prof Matt Hutchings from UEA said: “We have been exploring the chemical ecology of protective symbioses formed between antibiotic-producing bacteria and fungus-growing insects to better understand how these associations are formed and explore them as a new source of anti-infective drugs. Kenyan plant-ants live in symbiosis with thorny acacia trees. They live and breed in domatia – which are hollowed out structures which the plant evolved to house them – and grow fungus in them for food. In return, they protect the plants from large herbivores including elephants, which won’t eat plants covered in ants.”