New Antibiotic Discovered In Insect-Associated Microbes

The fungus growing cyphomyrmex ant is one of thousands of insects that researchers tested for microbes. From it they discovered cyphomycin, an antibiotic that can kill pathogens without toxic side effects.  ( Alex Wild | University of Wisconsin-Madison )

A new antibiotic is discovered by scientists after testing thousands of insects for the microbes that protect them from infections. Cyphomycin was able to treat infections in mice and presented low toxicity.

Insect Microbes

Most of the antibiotics we have now came from soil bacteria, but unfortunately, antibiotic-resistant pathogens are increasing, and new soil surveys tend to only turn up the same chemicals. In search of another possible source of antibiotics, researchers tested the microbes in insects, since the type of bacteria responsible for most antibiotics may be present in them too, possibly protecting them from infections.

To do this, researchers collected 2,500 insects across all major insect groups, from flies and bees to moths, butterflies, beetles, and ants. A third of them were collected in tropical regions, and another third were collected in temperate regions, while the others were collected from arctic and other regions.

They found that over half of the insects had the right kind of bacteria, and researchers ended up with over 10,000 kinds of microbes to test and another 7,000 from plants and other sources. In 50,000 trials, the researchers tested the microbes’ ability to stop the growth of 24 types of bacteria and fungi that pose threats to humans.

New Antibiotic

Incredibly, more of the microbes from insects were able to inhibit the growth of fungi and bacteria compared to the microbes from plants. Further, tests with mice showed that the extracts from the insect-associated microbes were able to kill bacteria and fungi pathogens and only few had toxic side effects.

Specifically, they found that microbes from a Brazilian fungus-farming ant, the cyphomyrmex ant, was successful in treating Candida albicans in mice without presenting toxic side effects. They named the antibiotic derived from cyphomyrmex ant microbes cyphomycin and have submitted a patent for it so they can begin to do more work before it can be developed into a new drug for humans.

According to researchers, it was not surprising that insect-associated microbes are a possible source of antibiotics because insects rely on those microbes to protect them from evolving pathogens, so they likely selected the microbes that can overcome resistance.

The study is the largest and most thorough of its kind. It is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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