Researchers discover new antibiotic in African ant
Researchers have discovered a new species of antibiotic, produced by the bacteria of an African ant, that is highly effective against MRSA.
The finding, published in the journal Chemical Science, was made by scientists at the University of East Anglia and the John Innes Centre.
The new species is a member of the Streptomycin bacteria family and was discovered on the African fungus-growing plant-ant, Tertraponera penzigi.
Tests show that the antibiotic is potent against antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs' such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococci (VRE).
Professor Wilkinson from the John Innes Centre commented: “Our finding highlights the importance of searching as-yet under-expired 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.”
Currently, nearly all of the antibiotics in use originate from a group of bacteria called actinomycetes. This bacteria was isolated from soil between 40 and 80 years ago, in what is known as the ‘golden age’ of antibiotic discovery.
Since then, inappropriate use of these antibiotics has led to widespread antimicrobial resistance where disease-causing bacteria have become resistant to some of these antibiotics.
“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,” said Prof Matt Hutchings from the University of East Anglia.
“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.”
The antibiotic has been named ‘streptomyces formicae,’ and the antibiotics formicamycins, after the latin formica, meaning ant.