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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May, 2005, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Deep sea weapon against superbug
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Bacteria live hundreds of metres below sea
A bacterium found 300 metres below sea could be used to fight the superbug MRSA, scientists believe.

UK experts from the Universities of Kent and Newcastle found a new species of a common bacterium that lives in the sea beds of Japan can kill MRSA.

Actinomycete bacteria are known for their antibiotic properties. The new species, verrucosispora maris, produces a unique antibiotic, abyssomicin C.

The team showed their work at a Natural Environment Research Council meeting.

Hidden depths

The scientists studied how hundreds of thousands of different microbes and bacteria can live in the same place on the ocean floor - often in conflict with one another.

Dr Phil Williamson, from NERC, said: "They have developed quite sophisticated systems of trying to kill off their rivals, and by looking at the different compounds they produce, the scientists have identified new bacteria which could provide the next generation of antibiotics.

"The ones from the bottom of the sea have not come into contact with disease-forming bacteria [on land] which therefore have not got any resistance to them."

But he said more research would be needed.

Researcher Professor Alan Bull, from the University of Kent, said: "The most exciting discovery has been a chemically-unique antibiotic, abyssomicin C, which has been found in an actinomycete recovered from the marine environment and has properties which could be used to inhibit MRSA."

Similarly, Scottish researchers from the company AquaPharm Bio-Discovery have found several types of bacteria which, together, act as a powerful natural antibiotic against MRSA.

However, they are keeping the identity of the MRSA-killing bacteria a secret, and taken out patents on how they can be cultivated and used.

US scientists recently reported that it might be possible to make cancer drugs from a microbe that lives within deep water sea squirts.

The number of cases of MRSA has been rising sharply - from 2,422 in 1997 in England and Wales to 7,684 in 2003/4 in England alone.

But more recently, cases have gone down. The government says they are now the lowest English NHS hospitals have seen since mandatory records began in 2001.

But it is still a significant problem and a number of strategies are being looked at to combat the problem.

One of the reasons behind their evolution into "superbugs" is the overuse of antibiotics, both in human and veterinary medicine.


SEE ALSO:
Ocean medicines could be lost
13 May 04 |  Science/Nature
Q&A: MRSA 'superbugs'
24 Feb 05 |  Health


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