How scientists can use insects to fight superbugs

The microbes living inside insects could help scientists fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, NPR reports.

Scientists have uncovered dozens of microorganisms living in or on insects that produce antimicrobial compounds. Some of these compounds may hold the key to creating new antibiotic drugs.

"There is a growing demand [for antibiotics], and a diminishing supply," said Gerry Wright, PhD, who directs the institute for infectious disease research at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada.

Most antibiotic drugs were discovered from bacteria living in the soil. But Cameron Currie, PhD, professor of bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said looking to soil for new antibiotics has become increasingly futile.

Dr. Currie and a team of 28 researchers recently published a paper in Nature Communications that found some of the bacteria living in insects are successful at killing the germs that make people ill.

"There's an estimated 10 million species [of insects] on the planet," Dr. Currie said. "That implies a huge potential for a lot of new [antibiotic] compounds."

The research team tested bacteria from each insect to find whether the bacteria could kill common human pathogens, including Escherichia coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. They then compared the results from strains of insect bacteria to strains drawn from plants and soil.

"We were really surprised that [insect strains] were not just as good, but apparently better at inhibiting [pathogens]," Dr. Currie said.

Dr. Currie's team found dozens of promising bacterial strains in insects that could have an ingredient to use for new antibiotic compound.

The researchers isolated one compound from a promising bacterial strain and showed that it could inhibit fungal infections in mice, an important step in drug development.

The compound, cyphomycin, is found on Brazilian fungus-farming ants. Although the drug is far from being approved, the research indicates antibiotic compounds new to science can be isolated from insects.

More articles on clinical leadership & infection control:
48 states report widespread flu activity: 5 things to know
Drug use may be driving jump in syphilis infections
OCD drug may help treat sepsis, study finds

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