Substance in SUGAR that wipes out superbugs named ‘most promising antibiotic candidate in decades’

Revenge is sweet: Experts hope poison found in SUGAR CANE will turn the tide against drug-resistant superbugs – it’s been dubbed the ‘most promising antibiotic in decades’

  • Albicidin is an antibiotic made by a disease-causing pathogen in sugarcane leaves
  • Scientists have discovered that the molecule blocks infections by changing its shape
  • New tests showed it to be effective against salmonella, E. coli and pneumonia

A toxin in sugar that wipes out superbugs has been called the “most exciting antibiotic candidate” in decades.

Albicidin is a toxin produced by the plant pathogen that causes the devastating leaf burn disease in sugarcane. Researchers found that albicidin was effective against six antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a new lab study.

Scientists hope it will give them a new weapon to fight superbugs, which are estimated to contribute to about seven million deaths each year. Experts have warned that they should be taken as seriously as global warming.

The antibiotic - called albicidin - is made by the plant pathogen that causes the devastating leaf burn disease in sugarcane, a bacterial disease that can ruin crops

The antibiotic – called albicidin – is made by the plant pathogen that causes the devastating leaf burn disease in sugarcane, a bacterial disease that can ruin crops

Dr. Dmitry Ghilarov, head of the research group investigating albicidin at the John Innes Center in Norwich, UK, said: ‘We believe this is one of the most exciting new antibiotic candidates in many years.

“It has extremely high effectiveness in small concentrations and is very potent against disease-causing bacteria – even those that are resistant to commonly used antibiotics.”

Albicidin is used by the pathogen Xanthomonas albilineans to spread throughout the plant, causing leaves to wilt and crops to become unusable.

The development of albicidin as an antibiotic was slow because scientists couldn’t figure out exactly how it affected its target in plants: the bacterial enzyme DNA gyrase.

Albicidin prevents a process that allows cells to function properly.

Gyrase, a bacterial enzyme, binds to DNA and spirals it in a process called supercoiling, which is critical to cell function.

During supercoiling, the DNA is temporarily broken.

Albicidin prevents DNA rejoining by changing shape and effectively blocking the pathway.

Now that scientists have this added structural understanding of how albicidin works, they hope to use it to modify the antibiotic and make it more effective against drug-resistant bacteria.

In the latest study, scientists used a high-powered microscope to discover that albicidin takes on an L-shape, blocking the gyrase from rejoining the broken DNA, like “a key thrown between two gears.”

The way albicidin interacts is sufficiently different from existing antibiotics, which are likely to work against many of today’s antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Through laboratory testing, the scientists found that it is effective against some of the most dangerous bacterial infections commonly contracted in hospitals, including salmonella, E. coli and pneumonia.

Those three antibiotic-resistant bugs are estimated to kill more than 50,000 Americans each year.

When antibiotics are taken unnecessarily, bacteria can develop the ability to defeat them and gradually become resistant to drugs.

Dr. Ghilarov said: ‘Due to the nature of the interaction, albicidin seems to target a really essential part of the enzyme and it is difficult for bacteria to develop resistance to that.

“Now that we have a structural understanding, we can look at how we can further exploit this binding pocket and make more changes to albicidin to improve its efficacy and pharmacological properties.”

Now the researchers will seek funding for human clinical trials, which they hope will lead to the creation of a new class of antibiotics.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Catalysis.

Figures estimate that by 2050, superbugs will kill 10 million people each year, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.

Around 700,000 people worldwide already die each year from drug-resistant infections, including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria.

Concerns have been raised repeatedly that medicine will be reverted to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics stop working in the coming years.

In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, only one or two new antibiotics have been developed in the past 30 years.

In 2019, the WHO warned that antibiotics were ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.

Without antibiotics, caesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements become incredibly “risky,” it was said at the time.


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