Bacteria found in ancient Irish soil halts growth of superbugs—new hope for tackling antibiotic resistance

Bacteria found in ancient Irish soil halts growth of superbugs -- new hope for tackling antibiotic resistance
Growth of the newly discovered Streptomyces sp. myrophorea, so named because it produces a distinctive fragrance similar to that of oil of wintergreen. Although superficially resembling fungi, Streptomyces are true bacteria and are the source of two-thirds of the various frontline antibiotics used in medicine. Credit: G Quinn, Swansea University

Researchers analysing soil from Ireland long thought to have medicinal properties have discovered that it contains a previously unknown strain of bacteria which is effective against four of the top six superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA.

Antibiotic resistant superbugs could kill up to 1.3 million people in Europe by 2050, according to recent research.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) describes the problem as "one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today".

The new strain of bacteria was discovered by a team based in Swansea University Medical School, made up of researchers from Wales, Brazil, Iraq and Northern Ireland.

They have named the new strain Streptomyces sp. myrophorea.

The soil they analysed originated from an area of Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, which is known as the Boho Highlands. It is an area of alkaline grassland and the soil is reputed to have healing properties.

The search for replacement to combat multi-resistance has prompted researchers to explore new sources, including folk medicines: a field of study known as ethnopharmacology. They are also focusing on environments where well-known antibiotic producers like Streptomyces can be found.

One of the , Dr. Gerry Quinn, a previous resident of Boho, County Fermanagh, had been aware of the healing traditions of the area for many years.

Traditionally a small amount of soil was wrapped up in cotton cloth and used to heal many ailments including toothache, throat and neck infections. Interestingly, this area was previously occupied by the Druids, around 1500 years ago, and Neolithic people 4000 years ago.

Bacteria found in ancient Irish soil halts growth of superbugs -- new hope for tackling antibiotic resistance
Zone of inhibition produced by Streptomyces sp myrophorea on a lawn of MRSA. The bacteria is the brown spot, and the lighter color around the spot shows that it is inhibiting the spread of the MRSA which is surrounding it. Credit: G Quinn, Swansea University

The main findings of the research were that the newly-identified strain of Streptomyces:

  • Inhibited the growth of four of the top six multi-resistant pathogens identified by the WHO as being responsible for healthcare-associated infections: Vancomycin resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Klebsiella pneumonia, and Carbenepenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumanii
  • Inhibited both gram positive and gram negative bacteria, which differ in the structure of their cell wall; usually gram negative bacteria are more resistant to antibiotics

It is not yet clear which component of the new strain prevents the growth of the pathogens, but the team are already investigating this.

Professor Paul Dyson of Swansea University Medical School said:

"This new strain of bacteria is effective against 4 of the top 6 pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics, including MRSA. Our discovery is an important step forward in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

Our results show that folklore and traditional medicines are worth investigating in the search for new antibiotics. Scientists, historians and archaeologists can all have something to contribute to this task. It seems that part of the answer to this very modern problem might lie in the wisdom of the past."

Dr. Gerry Quinn from the research team said:

"The discovery of antimicrobial substances from Streptomyces sp.myrophorea will help in our search for new drugs to treat multi-resistant , the cause of many dangerous and lethal infections.

We will now concentrate on the purification and identification of these antibiotics. We have also discovered additional antibacterial organisms from the same soil cure which may cover a broader spectrum of multi-resistant pathogens."

The research was published in Frontiers in Microbiology.

Explore further

Supercharged antibiotics could turn tide against superbugs

More information: Luciana Terra et al. A Novel Alkaliphilic Streptomyces Inhibits ESKAPE Pathogens, Frontiers in Microbiology (2018). DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2018.02458
Provided by Swansea University
Citation: Bacteria found in ancient Irish soil halts growth of superbugs—new hope for tackling antibiotic resistance (2018, December 27) retrieved 14 October 2019 from
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Dec 27, 2018
Ahaaa 'tis the drug of choice of the wee little folk; and that was gifted to the rosy-cheeked lads & colleens of the Emerald Isle.

Dec 27, 2018
My great-grandmother was born in Boho, which is pronounced 'Boe'. It was common for the locals to live to 90, even though they never saw a hospital.
Maybe their folk remedies were smarter than I thought.

Dec 28, 2018
It's of only limited use; no one has found an antibiotic that bacteria can't evolve to counter. I suppose this could be the one but I kinda doubt it.

Dec 28, 2018
@Schneib: Yes, superbugs and other bacteria will probably evolve resistance to an antibiotic made from this discovery, but in the meanwhile it could save hundreds of thousands of lives and save billions of dollars in medical costs.
Also, if this discovery pans out it will buy us time in the arms race with MRSA and numerous other pathogens.

Dec 30, 2018
ONE caveat. We must pass laws making it a capital felony with no appeal to feed these new antibiotics to livestock so that greedy agri-monopolist exploiters can make billions off of human misery, not to mention keeping animals on the hormones that make them disease prone and which is why the exploiters feed those critters the drugs so that they do not lose weight from the illnesses that shattered immune systems from excessive growth hormones are prone to. See it takes energy to 'grow'..put all that excess food into flesh...and fat. The animal's systems can only produce a certain amount of this energy and it must supply all the animal's needs, including immune system. If its control processes are hyjacked by these hormones, then it has to rob peter to pay take out of a fixed budget to route the limited energy to growth the critter does not need, leaving the immune budget depleted. No wonder they get sick.

Dec 30, 2018
@Shake, I can't deny what you say. I just get tired of the clickbait headlines every so often and rebel. ;)

Dec 30, 2018
@Schneib, I get your point. Yesterday I saw a superficial TV clip on this discovery that implied this would be a silver bullet that would defeat all superbugs for all time.

Dec 30, 2018
All those who want antibiotics removed from lifestock should be denied food because if it was done on a global scale, 1/4 of the world would be starving.

Dec 31, 2018
Alkaline is the key word here.

Dec 31, 2018
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