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New MRSA-Fighting Antibiotic Discovered in Human Snot

Deep in your nostril lies something of specific interest: a tiny microbial war between different types of bacteria, fighting for space and for food. The interactions that happen within these snot wars hold the secret to what might be the first new class of antibiotics to be used in patients since the 1980s; an antibiotic that can kill Staphylococcus aureus, and that might prove successful in the fight against S. aureus’s drug-resistant form, MRSA.

Nearly all currently used antibiotics were discovered in soil bacteria, but a team from the University of Tübingen, Germany have been working with the theory that the human body itself might be the next untapped source of antibiotics. And a new source is desperately needed, as resistance grows to the drug groups that have been in common usage over the past 30 years–MRSA claims over 10,000 lives each year in the U.S. alone.

So Andreas Peschel and Bernhard Krismer, who led the study at Tübingen began with snot, and for logical reason. As Perschel explained, the nose isn’t a very hospitable environment for bacteria:

If I were a bacterium I would not go into the nose. There is nothing there, simply a salty liquid and a tiny amount of nutrients.

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Which makes for fierce competition between bacteria, and in turn remarkably fearsome bacteria. S. aureus lives, completely harmlessly, in the nostrils of about 30 percent of individuals, so what stops it from growing in the noses of the other 70 percent. The answer, it turns out, is the presence of another bacteria S. lugdunensis. In Peschel and Krismer’s study of 187 hospitalized patients, 60 of them carried S. aureus and 17 S. lugdunensis; only one patient carried both.

So the team found the antibacterial compound produced by S. lugdunensis and synthesized it in a laboratory. In a petri dish the sythesized antibiotic, which they’ve called lugdunin, prevented S. aureus from growing. And then, when they applied lugdunin to the infected skin of mice, it reduced and in some cases killed the the infection. There’s even suggestion that S. aureus may not develop resistance to the drug.

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As Jack Gilbert, a microbial ecologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois said to Science:

This is extremely exciting as it provides evidence that a microbial war is ongoing in our body… [the research shows that] certain organisms can be leveraged to create novel drugs that could add to our arsenal of weapons against drug-resistant [microbes].

Photos CC by 2.0 Anna Guttermuth and A. on Flickr