Is the antibiotic of the future found in the fur of sloths?

2023-05-03 15:26:34

In Costa Rica, a researcher is said to have identified bacteria that produce antibiotics. A discovery that could offer new avenues for combating antibiotic resistance, which is responsible for several thousand deaths each year.

A researcher thinks he can discover new antibiotics in Costa Rica by studying the bacteria present in the coat of sloths. He had noticed that these tropical animals never get sick. According to Max Chavarria, a researcher at the University of Costa Rica, sloths have a unique biotope of insects, algae and bacteria in their coats that seem to protect them. “If someone studies the fur of a sloth, he will see movement: moths, different species of insects (…) a very extensive habitat and, obviously, when there are many kinds organisms, there must be a system that controls them“, he explains.

During his research, since 2020, the scientist has proven that “they are micro-organisms (which) are capable of producing antibiotics which help regulate the presence of pathogens in the coat of sloths», and more specifically bacteria that belong to the genera Rothia and Brevibacterium. These results were published in the scientific journal Environmental Microbiology. The whole question is whether these antibiotics have a future in the pharmacopoeia for humans.

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A thousand sloths rescued

Sloths, two species of which coexist in Costa Rica (the Bradypus variegatus or three-toed sloth, and the Choloepus hoffmanni or two-toed sloth) live in the trees of the tropical forests of Central America, particularly on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, in a humid climate with temperatures ranging from 22 to 30°C. The population of these placid mammals, also present in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, is considered in “declineby the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The researcher cut hairs from 15 individuals of each of the two species and made cultures in the laboratory to study them. After three years of research, the scientist counted about twenty “candidates» producers of antibiotics but everything remains to be done to consider an application on humans. “We must first understand the system (which produces immunity in sloths) and which molecules are involved“Explains Max Chavarria. Nature is the first of the laboratories, according to him, which cites the example of penicillin, discovered in 1928 by the Briton Alexander Fleming, Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1945, from fungi which naturally synthesize this antibiotic.

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The discovery of new antibiotics is a key issue since the World Health Organization (WHO) warns that current antibiotic resistance could cause 10 million deaths each year by the middle of the century. “This is why projects like ours can help discover new molecules that can be used, in the medium or long term, in this battle against antibiotic resistance.», Souligne Max Chavarria.

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