Sweet salvation: Kraków scientists discover sugar cane pathogen is ‘new weapon’ in war against bacteria
Scientists from Krakόw are among a group of researchers to have made a ground-breaking discovery about a plant toxin that could be used to create a powerful new range of antibiotics effective against drug-resistant bacteria.
Following laboratory research, the powerful plant substance, called albicidin, was found to possess a unique way of attacking bacteria in comparison to other drugs.
Scientists were also unable to elicit any resistance to the substance in tests, leading them to conclude that it would be very difficult for bacteria to evolve resistance to antibiotics based on albicidin.
The discovery was made by scientists led by Professor Jonathan Heddle at the Małopolska Centre of Biotechnology at the Jagiellonian University in Krakόw alongside counterparts at the Technische Universität in Berlin in Germany and the John Innes Centre in Norwich, in the UK.
The findings published in the journal Nature Catalysis, open up the very real possibility of creating a new type of antibiotic which could be used on drug-resistant pathogens like E coli, and come at a time of increasingly widespread global concern about the growing number of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
Scientists have known the potential of albicidin for several years, when it was discovered to be effective at killing bacteria, but until now, the mechanisms of how exactly it killed bacteria, were not known, with the current research solving the puzzle.
Announcing the discovery, Jagiellonian University revealed that it was observations of sugar cane that led to initial further research which led to the eventual discovery being made.
The university said: “A certain inconspicuous pathogen called Xanthomonas albilineans, decided it had one key aim in its microbiological life – the oppression of sugar came…its ravaging of sugar cane reached global and catastrophic proportions.
“It causes such bad burns of the leaves, that all chances of the plants survival fall to zero. Since sugar cane is a big player on the international food market, scientists who wanted to understand how this weapon of mass destruction works, had to take a closer look at this case.”
It added: “This is a really un-believable thing. The discovery of albicidin’s way of working heralds huge breakthroughs. It works so very differently to existing antibiotics, that it could constitute a really great weapon in the fight against superbacteria resistant to them.
“Professor Heddle’s team is starting to use their observations in chemical synthesis of a new antibiotic. In tests, it is showing effectiveness against even the most dangerous strains from hospitals.”
“We need to remember, that infections with drug-resistant pathogens are the main cause of death in hospitals and intensive care wards and we urgently, now, need new drugs to fight this threat.
“Existing programmes for uncovering have not resulted in any new antibiotics, and that has been the case for several decades. That’s why the discoveries of our scientists are so important.”