Rock pools could hold the secret of a cure for the hospital superbug MRSA, scientists say.
The MRSA superbug
Scottish researchers have found several types of bacteria which, together, act as a powerful natural antibiotic against MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus).
One in particular is proving effective, and has attracted interest from major pharmaceutical companies.
MRSA, which is responsible for an increasing number of deaths, has built up resistance to antibiotics commonly used in hospitals, so doctors are searching for something new to treat it with.
Researchers from Edinburgh-based company AquaPharm Bio-Discovery, have been awarded £50,000 by Nesta, the National
Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts to continue their studies.
It's essentially beachcombing
Dr Jonathan David, AquaPharm
The company is keeping the identity of the MRSA-killing bacteria a secret, and taken out patents on how they can be cultivated and used.
They are collected by scraping off the surface slime from rocks, plants and invertebrates such as sea anemones.
Dr Jonathan David, technical director at AquaPharm, said: "It's essentially beachcombing. We go for whatever we
think is likely to be of interest.
"There are certain sites to look for - basically it's down to experience. Usually we take some of the substrate on
which the bacteria live and put it in vials."
They say the marine environment is an untapped source of potential drugs.
It is estimated that only 5% of the marine environment has been described and that between 500,000 - 5,000,000 species, mostly micro-organisms, are still to be discovered.
Dr David said: "It appears to be very potent in terms of what
concentration is required to kill MRSA. It completely stops them dead, preventing any further growth and killing the existing bacteria."
He said there was a need for something to fight MRSA, but added: "The pharmaceutical industry has very few leads."
But there is interest in their research, he said. ""We have been talking to several pharmaceutical companies and they seem very
Jeremy Newton, Nesta's chief executive, said: "Nesta is delighted to be supporting such an innovative scientific project, which, if successful, could bring huge benefits both commercially and socially."
Increasing numbers of MRSA cases are seen.
In 1991, it accounted for 1.7% of a total 4,966 reports of staphylococcus
blood infection in hospitals in England and Wales.
By 2001 that had risen to 41% of 12,631 reports.