Nova Scotia soil fungus could help fight antibiotic-resistant superbugs

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Sonja Puzic,
Published Wednesday, June 25, 2014 1:42PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 25, 2014 8:38PM EDT

A fungus found in Nova Scotian soil could become a new weapon against one of the world?s most dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria genes, scientists say.

A team of researchers led by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., has discovered that a molecule derived from the fungus is able to disarm a gene found in many antibiotic-resistant ?superbugs,? including E. coli.

The molecule is known as AMA and the gene it targets is called NDM-1 or New Delhi Metallo-beta-Lactamase-1.

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NDM-1 is ?public enemy number one," Gerry Wright, director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University, said in a news release.

"It came out of nowhere, it has spread everywhere and has basically killed our last resource of antibiotics, the last pill on the shelf, used to treat serious infections,? he said.

NDM-1 is an enzyme resistant to carbapenems, a class of potent antibiotics used around the world to treat bacterial infections.

Wright said the AMA molecule ?knocks out NDM-1 so the antibiotics can do their job.?

The findings were published Wednesday in the online version of the journal Nature.

Wright and his team, which includes researchers from McMaster, University of British Columbia and Cardiff University in Wales, were able to test the effects of the molecule on the NDM-1 gene using a harmless E. coli bacteria.

NDM-1 needs zinc to survive. The scientists found that the fungus molecule was able to remove the zinc ?naturally and harmlessly,? rendering the gene ineffective.

When they tested the process in mice infected with an NDM-1-related superbug, the rodents that received a combination of the AMA molecule and a carbapenem antibiotic survived.

Those that received either an antibiotic or the molecule alone died.

The finding is significant, the scientists said, because antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing issues facing doctors and researchers today.

The World Health Organization says many infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections, are at risk of becoming ?uncontrollable? due to antibiotic resistance.

The Canadian Institutes for Health Research says antibiotic resistance, attributed to overuse and misuse, is one of the ?top public health concerns in Canada.? It says innovative research in the field is much needed.

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