Researchers found bacteria in ancient Irish soil halts growth of superbugs

Researchers discovered bacteria from Irish soil long thought to have medicinal properties. They have found that it contains previously unknown bacterial strains effective against four of the top six superbugs which are resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA.

Antimicrobial resistance is a major, global health issue. The rate at which bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotic treatments has significantly increased. Hence, this pattern is challenging the ability of physicians to carry out routine operations.

This pattern has been compounded not only by microbes which are resistant to one antimicrobial or another (“multi-drug resistant microorganisms”, so-termed as ‘superbugs’).

Superbugs are actually bacterial strains which are resistant to the majority of commonly used antibiotics. This makes formerly standard treatments for bacterial infections less effective, and in some cases, ineffective.

According to recent research, antibiotic-resistant superbugs could kill up to 1.3 million individuals in Europe by 2050. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and EU describe that this is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.

New bacterial strain

The research, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, was conducted by a team based in Swansea University Medical School. The team was made up of researchers from Wales, Iraq, Brazil, and Northern Ireland. They discovered a new strain of bacteria.

The researchers named the new organism as Streptomyces sp. myrophorea. It has been so named as it produces a distinctive fragrance, a sweet odor. Moreover, this odor is similar to that of oil of wintergreen which is an organic compound methyl salicylate.

The soil they analyzed is known as the Boho Highlands. It originated from an area of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. This is an area of alkaline grassland and the soil is believed to have healing properties.

The quest for antibiotics replacement to combat multi-resistance has encouraged researchers to discover new sources, including folk medicines. And the field of study is known as ethnopharmacology. Scientists are also focusing on environments where known antibiotic producers like Streptomyces can be found.

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

Traditionally, people used a small amount of soil wrapped up in a cotton cloth to heal many ailments including throat, toothache, and neck infections. Interestingly, this area was also occupied by the Druids, about 1500 years ago, and Neolithic people 4000 years ago.

Findings of the research

The findings of the research were that the newly identified strain of bacteria Streptomyces;

The new strains 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
  • Carbenepenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumanii

This strain inhibited the growth of both gram positive and gram negative bacteria, which were different in the structure of their cell wall. Generally, gram-negative bacteria are more antibiotic resistant.

It is not clear which component of the new strain stops the growth of the pathogens. But this strain of bacteria is much effective against 4 of the top 6 antibiotic-resistant pathogens. This discovery is an important step in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

However, these findings show that folklore and traditional medications are worth inspecting in the search for new antibiotics. The discovery of antimicrobial substances will help in the search for new medicines to treat multi-resistant bacteria, that cause many lethal and dangerous infections.

Sophie Abram

Sophie Abram is an author at Top Health Journal. She has a master’s degree in Biochemistry. Evidence-based nutrition is her passion and she loves to devote her career to informing the general public about it. She has extensive experience as a researcher and her research focus is within food reformulation, improving food supply and food environments. Her research examines how nutrition, dietary supplements, and exercise affects human body composition. Twitter- @abram_sophie

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