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Pollen spores could be used to protect potent, ocean-dwelling antibiotics in fighting antibiotic resistant superbugs

Published on 05/08/19 at 11:10am

Spores from a plant called the common club moss (Lycopodium clavatum) could be used to protect light-sensitive antibiotics, that are found at the bottom of the ocean, in fighting antibiotic resistant superbugs, according to research published in the journal Chemical Science.  

Marinomycins are potent antibiotics which are able to fight antimicrobial resistant superbugs. However, their sensitivity to light renders them almost useless in a practical setting, as exposure to UV radiation causes them to rapidly decompose.

Yet researchers from the University of St Andrews have been able to use pollen spores to protect the highly photosensitive antibiotics from exposure to light. The protection significantly extended the half-life of the drugs, meaning they could be a useful tool in the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and deadly superbugs such as MRSA.

Professor Rebecca Goss, from the University of St Andrews, explained: “Over the past few years, superbugs resistant to antibiotics like MRSA and VRSE have already claimed tens of thousands of lives – making the search for a potential solution an urgent task.”

“In recent years, a new class of antibiotics developed called marinomycins were found to be effective against these superbugs; however, they rapidly decompose in light, so they were effectively useless as potential antibiotics.”

Luckily, Professor Goss, who had previously been able to isolate individual strains of marinocmycins, met Professor Andrew Evans, from Queens University Canada, who had the idea of using pollen to protect them from exposure to light.

Professor Evans commented: “Using this technique, we’ve gone from something that’s really unstable to something that’s almost indefinitely stable. The remarkable discovery in this paper is we can take these pollen spores to photoprotect these unique antibiotics and suddenly what was then useless is now useful again.”

”The half-life of marinomycins in UV light is 90 seconds. When we shine the UV light on it when in the dried pollen shells, after seven hours there’s no sign of any decomposition. It’s a very important discovery.”

Dr May Copsey, Executive Editor of Chemical Science at the Royal Society of Chemistry, commented: “Since the development of antibiotics in the early twentieth century, modern medicine has continued to transform the lives of billions of people. Infectious diseases that routinely killed or disabled people only 100 years ago are now easily treatable – something that we now take for granted.

“However, a recent surge in superbugs is compromising the ability to effectively treat new strains of bacteria due to increasing resistance, putting millions at risk.

She added: “Pollen has in the past been subject to much vilification in the media, plaguing the lives of millions with hayfever symptoms each year. Now, there’s a chance to turn the story into something much more positive, thanks to the research of Professor Goss and her team.”

Professor Goss said: “It is very exciting. Many molecules with potentially useful medicinal properties are dropped due to photoinstability, but now there is huge potential to use pollen encapsulation to stabilise and rescue these potential drugs.”

Louis Goss

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