Bacteria versus superbugs

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Bacteria

Scientists have discovered a strain of bacteria in Irish soil that can effectively fight superbugs resistant to antibiotics.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes antibiotic resistant superbugs as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today”.

The strain, named Streptomyces sp myrophorea, was discovered by a team based in Swansea University, UK.

The soil they analysed originated from Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, also known as Boho Highlands. It is an area of alkaline grassland where the soil is reputed to have healing properties.

The search for replacement antibiotics to combat multi-resistance has prompted researchers to explore new sources, including folk medicine. They are also focusing on environments where well-known antibiotic producers like Streptomyces can be found.

One of the research team, Dr Gerry Quinn, a previous resident of Boho, County Fermanagh, had been aware of the healing traditions of the area for many years.

Traditionally, a small amount of soil was wrapped up in cotton cloth and used to heal many ailments including toothache, throat and neck infections. This area was previously occupied by the Druids, around 1500 years ago, and Neolithic people 4,000 years ago.

“Our discovery is an important step forward in the fight against antibiotic resistance,” said Paul Dyson of Swansea University.

The main findings showed that Streptomyces inhibited the growth of four of the top six multi-resistant pathogens identified by the WHO as being responsible for healthcare-associated infections: Vancomycin resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Klebsiella pneumonia, and Carbenepenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumanii.

The bacteria also inhibited both gram positive and gram negative bacteria, which differ in the structure of their cell wall; usually gram negative bacteria are more resistant to antibiotics.