Irish research finds plant-based weapons to tackle antibiotic resistance

20 Jun 2016

A new piece of research has revealed two plant-based candidates that could be pivotal in the fight against antibiotic resistance: broad beans and cowpeas may be the answer to humanity’s sickly prayers.

We’re consistently being told that the day will soon come when our bodies’ resistance to regular antibiotics will reach a crescendo, rendering basic treatments obsolete and ushering in a dramatic reversal of fortunes in humanity’s battle for health.

Previously manageable ailments could prove dramatically more dangerous, lifetimes will shorten, and all the while, we’ll rue science’s inability to outsmart nature.

Inspirefest antibiotics

However, nothing is that clean cut, with a new piece of research led by Trinity College Dublin’s Ursula Bond revealing a couple of weapons we can use to fight that grim version of the future.

Searching for peptides (strings of amino acids) that had antibiotic effects on bacteria, Bond and her colleagues isolated such from a broad bean and a cowpea.

They were discovered by mapping previously-known human peptides, with their structural blueprints almost identical.

The result was a new batch of peptides that, initially, can fight against spoiling food and resultant poisoning. Extracted beyond this, tough, they could aid our antibiotic battle.

Bond presumed that natural peptides would be worth investigating because plants have evolved to protect themselves against countless bacterial threats.

“There are two major advantages to these small peptides, in that no resistance mechanisms have emerged yet, and in that they can be inexpensively synthesised in the lab,” said Bond.

“Initially, our aim was to identify peptides that provide protection against food-spoiling bacteria, but these peptides may also be useful as antibiotics against bacteria that cause serious human diseases.”

MRSA image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic