New Antibiotics from Insects
What do insects and antibiotics have in common?
According to researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, there may be quite a bit. Researchers have discovered a link between insects and antibiotics that has lead to the development of new medicine. Observing ants and other insects has helped to facilitate the production of new antibiotics.
“We’re excited because we’ve identified a new source of antibiotics that hasn’t been tapped into, and it appears to be a very rich source,” said co-principal investigator David Andes, a professor in the Department of Medicine. This important project, which also includes co-principal investigator Cameron Currie, is a collaborative effort between SMPH and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
In the past, Currie has studied interconnections between microbes and hosts. While doing graduate work at the University of Toronto, his research led him to study ant colonies that grow fungus for food and the parasites that attack the ants. He noticed a white coating on the bodies of the ants and later discovered it was a bacteria known to produce antibiotics.
This discovery begged the question; do ants use the bacteria to develop a resistance to the parasites? The answer to the question was yes. Other insects, including beetles and honeybees, do the same.
“Scientific advancement has been driven by basic science research, of trying to understand our world around us,” Currie said. This new source, while more abundant than others, looses effectiveness much faster than other sources. According the Andes, “bacteria can develop a resistance as quickly as three years after an antibiotic’s development.”
“The new antibiotics will be used to treat those for whom current antibiotics are ineffective,” Andes said. He added that, “UW Hospital on average sees one patient daily who cannot be treated with current antibiotics.”