- Antibiotic family, known as malacdins, kill several ‘superbugs’, including MRSA
- They target bacteria’s cell walls without causing any drug resistance in the lab
- When used to treat MRSA skin infections in rats, the rodents had no side effects
- Researchers may have discovered a non-toxic alternative to current antibiotics
- Experts have said the antibiotic-resistance crisis is as serious as terrorism
For the first time in 30 years, a new type of antibiotic has been unearthed, buried in dirt.
Experiments suggest the antibiotic family, known as malacidins, can kill several ‘superbugs’, including the notoriously difficult-to-treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
The antibiotics’ unique approach to killing pathogens targets bacteria’s cell walls, which did not cause drug resistance in the laboratory, a US study found.
When tested on MRSA skin infections in rats, the rodents experienced no side effects, giving the researchers hope they may have discovered a non-toxic alternative to current antibiotics.
Experts have previously warned antibiotic resistance poses ‘as big a risk as terrorism’ and could revert modern society back to 19th century conditions where a simple infection or operation may be life-threatening.
A lack of new drugs combined with overprescribing is thought to have driven antibiotic resistance, which, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), ‘has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country.’
For the first time in 30 years, a new type of antibiotic has been unearthed, buried in dirt (stock)
WHAT IS ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?
Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs.
The World Health Organization has previously warned if nothing is done the world was headed for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.
It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate answers to the growing crisis.
Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics, or they are given out unnecessarily.
Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism.
Figures estimate that superbugs will kill ten million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.
Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world.
Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.
In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.
In September, the World Health Organisation warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.
Without antibiotics, caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements would also become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.
No antibiotic resistance
Study author Professor Sean Brady from The Rockefeller University in New York, said: ‘Topical administration was successful in sterilising MRSA-infected wounds in a rat model.
‘At 24 and 72-hours post infection, malacidin treatment resulted in no observed bacterial burdens in the wounds.
‘Likewise, the malacidins showed no significant toxicity against mammalian cells at the highest concentrations tested.
‘Even after 20 days of exposure to sub-lethal levels we did not detect any malacidin-resistant S. aureus.’
The researchers are investigating malacidin’s potential at treating human infections.
How the research was carried out
The scientists analysed more than a thousand soil samples taken from across the US.
Antibiotics found in these samples killed a variety of multi drug-resistant, disease causing bacteria.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Microbiology.
How serious is the antibiotic resistance crisis?
Professor Brady added: ‘Despite the wide availability of antibiotics, infectious diseases remain a leading cause of death worldwide.
‘In the absence of new therapies, mortality rates due to untreatable infections are predicted to rise more than tenfold by 2050.’
The WHO has also classified antimicrobial resistance as a ‘serious threat’ to every region of the world.
Penicillin, the first and most famous antibiotic, was discovered by the Scottish microbiologist Alexander Fleming in 1928 and also came from soil bacteria.
Soil is thought to be a good source of antibiotics as its low-nutrient content forces different bacteria species to fight against each other for survival, making them ‘stronger’.
Fleming’s discovery allowed doctors to treat and cure infected patients, saving millions of lives.
Yet, less than a century after Fleming’s discovery there are precious few antibiotics left and many superbugs are already resistant to all of them.