Bacteria found in ancient Irish soil halts growth of superbugs

Science Notes: The discovery offers new hope for tackling antibiotic resistance

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Researchers analyzing soil from Ireland long thought to have medicinal properties have discovered that it contains a previously unknown strain of bacteria effective against four of the top six superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA.

Antibiotic resistant superbugs could kill up to 1.3 million people in Europe by 2050, according to recent research.

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes the problem as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.”

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

They have named the new strain Streptomyces sp. myrophorea.

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

The search for replacement antibiotics to combat multi-resistance has prompted researchers to explore new sources, including folk medicines: a field of study known as ethnopharmacology. They are also focusing on environments where well-known antibiotic producers like Streptomyces can be found.

One of the research team, Gerry Quinn, a previous resident of Boho, County Fermanagh, had been aware of the healing traditions of the area for many years.

Traditionally a small amount of soil was wrapped up in cotton cloth and used to heal many ailments including toothache, throat and neck infections. Interestingly, this area was previously occupied by the Druids, around 1,500 years ago, and Neolithic people 4,000 years ago.

It is not yet clear which component of the new strain prevents the growth of the pathogens, but the team is investigating.

Dr. Gerry Quinn from the research team said: “The discovery of antimicrobial substances from Streptomyces sp.myrophorea will help in our search for new drugs to treat multi-resistant bacteria, the cause of many dangerous and lethal infections.”

The research was published in Frontiers in Microbiology.

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