New Antibiotic Discovered in Diseased Potatoes 🥔

New Antibiotic Discovered in Diseased Potatoes 🥔


A new antibiotic discovered by researchers in diseased potatoes may be effective in combatting fungal infections in plants and humans

"From a pharmaceutical and agricultural perspective, solanimycin may represent a potentially exciting discovery”  — Miguel A. Matilla

Before the serendipitous discovery of penicillin in 1928 and subsequent research, development, and large-scale manufacturing between 1929 and the late 1940s, minor infections could, and often were, life-threatening, particularly to those with a serious injury or other complicating conditions. Penicillin was a game-changer. To quote Steven Johnson in his book Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer, “The discoveries of penicillin and its successor antibiotics (almost all of which were developed in the two decades that followed Florey and Heatley’s first successful test in 1942) directly saved hundreds of millions, if not billions, of lives around the world.” The antibiotics humanity developed in the half-century following the discovery of penicillin turned the tide in our unending war against bacteria; however, it has been imperfect and occasionally fragile, with antibiotic-resistant bacteria an escalating and underappreciated risk to global human health. Staying a step ahead of the microbes will require a number of new and improved antibiotics, and it’s against that backdrop that a multinational group of European researchers has discovered a new and fertile hunting ground for antibiotics, the bacteria that inhabit plants. A team of researchers led by microbiologist Rita Monson, Ph.D., at the University of Cambridge, and molecular microbiologist Miguel Matilla, Ph.D., at the Spanish Research Council’s Estación Experimental del Zaidín, in Granada - have just announced in a new study, the discovery of a potentially promising antifungal antibiotic called solanimycin. The antibiotic was extracted from a pathogenic bacterium (Dickeya solani) that infects potatoes. This new research suggests there is untapped potential for antibiotic discovery in plant bacteria, whereas previously, the vast majority of antibiotic compounds have been discovered in soil bacteria. “We have to look more expansively across much more of the microbial populations available to us,” Monson said.”

The compound has the capacity to fight infection across a broad spectrum of agricultural crops, as well as combating Candida albicans, opportunistic pathogenic yeast found living benignly in the human microbiome of roughly 60% of healthy adults, but can cause serious and potentially life-threatening infection outbreaks. 

While the discovery is relatively fresh, the research team is now exploring future opportunities to test the success of the compound, saying, “Our future steps are focused on trying to use this antibiotic antifungal for plant protection,.” The team noted that the results are an encouraging sign that bacterial plant pathogens may be used in the future to combat disease in plants and humans. 

The researchers concluded in their study that “from a pharmaceutical and agricultural perspective, solanimycin may represent a potentially exciting discovery, and this study confirms the view that soil- and plant-associated microbes other than actinomycetes represent an underexplored reservoir of bioactive secondary metabolites with potential medicinal and agricultural utility.”

The last truly novel antibiotic compounds that made it to the market were discovered in the 1980s, leaving a void of innovation that has lasted decades, with many experts worried about the very real possibility of an “antibiotic apocalypse.” The WHO has called the issue of antibiotic resistance “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” Without urgent innovation in antibiotic development, we may face a future with antibiotic-resistant bacteria contributing significantly to global disease as a cause of death. 

This study could signal a game-changing breakthrough in the way humanity searches for and develops antibiotics and the reboot of innovation in the research and development of new and critically needed antibiotics.

Source Inspiration: New antibiotic hiding in diseased potatoes thwarts fungal infections in plants and humans: Antifungal compound helping disease-causing bacteria thrive may treat humans and plants, too. Clare Kenyon for Cosmos, October 11th, 2022

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