Insect brains are rich stores of new antibiotics

September 06, 2010

Cockroaches could be more of a health benefit than a health hazard according to scientists from the University of Nottingham, who have discovered powerful antibiotic properties in the brains of cockroaches and locusts.

Simon Lee, a postgraduate researcher who is presenting his work at the Society for General Microbiology's autumn meeting in Nottingham, describes how the group identified up to nine different molecules in the insect tissues that were toxic to bacteria. These substances could lead to novel treatments for multi-drug resistant bacterial infections.

The group found that the tissues of the brain and nervous system of the insects were able to kill more than 90% of Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Escherichia coli, without harming human cells. Studying the specific properties of the antibacterial molecules is currently underway in the laboratory. "We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into treatments for E. coli and MRSA infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs," explained Mr Lee. "Also, these new antibiotics could potentially provide alternatives to currently available drugs that may be effective but have serious and unwanted side effects," he said.

The pharmaceutical industry is generating fewer and fewer new antibiotics due to lack of financial incentives, meaning that alternative sources of new drugs are much needed. Mr Lee explained why it is unsurprising that insects secrete their own antimicrobials. "Insects often live in unsanitary and unhygienic environments where they encounter many different types of bacteria. It is therefore logical that they have developed ways of protecting themselves against micro-organisms," he explained.
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Microbiology Society

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