A soil sample from a national park in eastern Canada has produced a compound that appears to reverse antibiotic resistance in dangerous bacteria.
Scientists at McMaster University in Ontario discovered that the compound almost instantly turned off a gene in several harmful bacteria that makes them highly resistant to treatment with a class of antibiotics used to fight so-called superbug infections. The compound, called aspergillomarasmine A, or AMA, was extracted from a common fungus found in soil and mold.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing public-health threat. Common germs such as Escherichia coli, or E. coli, are becoming harder to treat because they increasingly don’t respond to antibiotics. Some two million people in the U.S. are infected each year by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and 23,000 die as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization has called antibiotic resistance a threat to global public health.
The Canadian team was able to disarm a gene—New Delhi Metallo-beta-Lactamase-1, or NDM-1—that has become “public enemy No. 1” since its discovery in 2009, says Gerard Wright, director of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research and lead researcher on the study. The report appears on the cover of this week’s issue of the journal Nature.
“Discovery of a fungus capable of rendering these multidrug-resistant organisms incapable of further infection is huge,” says Irena Kenneley, a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University. “The availability of more treatment options will ultimately save many more lives,” says Dr. Kenneley, who wasn’t involved in the McMaster research.
The McMaster team plans further experiments to determine the safety and effective dosage of AMA. It could take as long as a decade to complete clinical trials on people with superbug infections, Dr. Wright says.
[continued at The Wall Street Journal]