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article imageEssential Science: Antimicrobial found in ancient Irish soil

By Tim Sandle     Jan 7, 2019 in Science
Swansea - A bacterium discovered in ancient Irish soil has been shown to be capable of halting the growth of certain ‘superbugs’. The discovery offers new hope for tackling antibiotic resistance.
Scientists are on a quest to detect next-generation antimicrobials in the unlikeliest of places, with many cross-national studies underway. In one such discovery, researchers from Swansea University (Wales, U.K.) have uncovered a potential antimicrobial by examining soil from Ireland.
Special soil with healing properties
What’s special about the soil is that the dirt has long been rumored, as part of superstition and folklore, to have certain ‘medicinal properties’. What the researchers didn’t expect was to find a previously unknown strain of bacterium which is effective against four of the main six superbugs that are proving to be resistant to antibiotics. The superbugs include meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Areas formerly covered with water are now drying grassland.
Areas formerly covered with water are now drying grassland.
The area of isolation was area of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, which is known as the Boho Highlands. This is an area of alkaline grassland. As the Daily Telegraph reports, folklore runs that putting a small amount of soil wrapped in cotton and placing this next to a site of infection can help to cure someone. This technique has been used in times gone by to heal a variety of ailments like toothache, throat and neck infections.
The scientific practice of searching areas like this, to determine whether such folk-tales have any semblance of truth, is called ethnopharmacology. This is part of the wider field of ethnomedicine, which is a study of the traditional medicine based on bioactive compounds in plants and animals and practiced by various ethnic group.
Antimicrobial problem
Antimicrobial resistance presents a major, global health issue. In the last couple of decades, the rate at which bacteria are becoming resistant to the main array of antibiotic treatments has significantly increased. This pattern is challenging the ability of medics to carry out routine operations or transplants. This pattern been compounded not only by microorganisms that are resistant to one antimicrobial or another (“multi-drug resistant microorganisms”, which are the so-termed ‘superbugs’).
A person with an infection of the esophagus.
A person with an infection of the esophagus.
National Health Service
If too few new antimicrobial are discovered, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warns that superbug infections will kill around 2.4 million people across Europe, North America and Australia by 2050. The OECD report, issued in November 2018, is titled "Stemming the Superbug Tide: Just A Few Dollars More."
New bacterium
The new organism has been named Streptomyces sp. myrophorea. It has been so named because it produces a distinctive fragrance - a sweet odor - similar to that of oil of wintergreen (the organic compound methyl salicylate).
Scanning electron micrograph of a human neutrophil ingesting MRSA
Scanning electron micrograph of a human neutrophil ingesting MRSA
National Institutes of Health (Mark 1.0)
In tests the new bacterium was able to inhibit the growth of the following four superbugs: Vancomycin resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Klebsiella pneumonia, and Carbenepenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumanii.
Commenting on the find, Professor Paul Dyson of Swansea University Medical School stated: "This new strain of bacteria is effective against 4 of the top 6 pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA. Our discovery is an important step forward in the fight against antibiotic resistance."
As a next step the researchers will focus on purifying the chemical compound produced by the Streptomyces species and running further tests to assess the suitability of the find as a novel antimicrobial that can be commercialized.
Research paper
The research has been published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology, with the research paper called “A Novel Alkaliphilic Streptomyces Inhibits ESKAPE Pathogens.”
Essential Science
Falling down drunk
Falling down drunk
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week, as part of the build-up to New Year, we discussed research looking at the biochemical processes involved with alcohol addiction and they have succeeded in identifying the pathway involved. This could assist with the treatment of alcohol related addiction
The previous week we discussed the most-distant solar system object ever observed, which has recently been detected by astronomers. The outer solar system objects is described as a 'far out there' dwarf planet.
More about Bacteria, antimicrobial resistance, Antibiotic resistance, Microbiology, Medicine
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