Cork team find new natural antibiotic candidate in mackerel

4 Oct 2016

Antibiotic resistance illustration. Image: Kateryna Kon/Shutterstock

A team of researchers from Cork is attempting to prevent the possible devastation brought on by a post-antibiotic era with a new arsenal of natural alternatives.

With the global industrial use of antibiotics in farming and their over-prescription in general medicine, we are now facing a period wherein our current stockpile of antibiotics could be rendered ineffective – commonly called the post-antibiotic era.

This would spell disaster for humanity, as common infections like C. difficile would soon become life-threatening conditions. The potential outcome has already been estimated to cost $1.5bn per year, according to the World Health Organisation.

Thankfully, teams of researchers across the globe are working on potential antibiotic alternatives, including a team from Cork’s APC Microbiome Institute.

Publishing its latest findings in the journal Microbiology, the Cork team has revealed that it has formulated a new antimicrobial called formicin.

Formicin is a bacteriocin (a small bacterially-produced antimicrobial protein) and is a member of a subclass of bacteriocins called lantibiotics (a class of peptide antibiotics) which contain certain modified amino acids.

APC team photo

Pictured from left: Dr Orla O’Sullivan, Paula O’Connor, Fergus Collins and Dr Mary Rea. Image: Dr Catherine Buckley/APC/UCC

What makes formicin unique among lantibiotics are the differences in the peptide’s charge and composition.

In this case, the first peptide likely binds to the cell membrane of the bacterial target and subsequently recruits the second formicin peptide, which then inserts into the membrane.

The resulting action will then form a pore that kills the harmful cells.

Spun-out company formed

This latest potential antibiotic solution was found during the APC Microbiome Institute’s latest screening that includes 20 new small proteins including thuricin and lacticin 3147.

“The new antimicrobial, Formicin, was isolated from Bacillus paralicheniformis APC1576, a bacteria which was originally isolated from the intestine of a mackerel,” said Fergus Collins, the PhD student who discovered Formicin.

“Formicin can kill a wide range of harmful bacteria including the Gram-positive pathogens Staphylococcous aureus, Clostridium difficile, Listeria monocytogenes and Steptococcus mutans, a causative agent of tooth decay.”

Prof Paul Ross, who led the team’s research, has now confirmed that it has spun out a new company called Artugen Therapeutics to develop a range of future antibiotic candidates.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic