If you get sick with an infection, you usually take antibiotics, which (if they do what they're supposed to do) make you better by killing bacteria. This medical treatment seems simple, but many nasty types of bacterial are growing increasingly resistant to antibiotics. A team of scientists at McMaster University in Canada have found a molecule in some soil-dwelling fungus that is capable of disarming some antibiotic resisting properties, making even stubborn bacterial infections treatable with standard antibiotics.
Antibiotic resistance has been a source of concern for doctors, particularly since we haven’t discovered any new antibiotics since the 1980s. Finding this new molecule, called AMA, in a certain fungus that grows in soil is way easier than trying to create new treatments for superbugs from scratch. The superbugs in question contain New Delhi Metallo-beta-Lactamase-1, or NDM-1, and are considered a global threat by the World Health Organization. AMA effectively wipes out NDM-1, which then allows antibiotics to do their work.
In their experiments, the researchers combined the NDM-1 gene with harmless E. coli bacteria, and then infected mice with this engineered superbug. One group of mice were given both AMA and an antibiotic, the second group were given just AMA, and the third were given just an antibiotic. Of the three groups, only the mice receiving the AMA plus the antibiotic survived.
The implications for this research are that we may soon have a new weapon in our fight against one of the most challenging health care problems of this decade. Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are spreading rapidly across the globe, killing indiscriminately, and we need to stop them before it's too late. Or as soon as we get around to it, anyway.