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New class of antibiotics effective against drug-resistant bacteria discovered in fungi

A peptide identified in a fungus found in northern European pine forests possesses as much power as penicillin as well as vancomycin, according to an international team of researchers.

Reporting in the October 13 issue of Nature, a team from Denmark-based biotech company Novozymes, and researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, say they have isolated "plectasin," the first defensin ever found in fungi. The research was performed at Novozymes laboratories in Denmark.

Defensins are peptides, miniature protein molecules that are produced by a wide range of animals to protect themselves against infection. Humans have defensins in their white blood cells and in their skin, for example, but it is believed that this new fungal defensin, plectasin, is more potent and targets certain bacteria more specifically.

Indeed, when plectasin was tested in the laboratory and in animals, it proved to be highly effective against the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Streptococcus pyogenes, including strains that are now resistant to conventional antibiotics. These bacteria are responsible for such diseases as meningitis, community-acquired pneumonia, strep throat, life-threatening sepsis, and flesh destroying skin infections.

The discovery of plectasin has implications for the development of defensins as a treatment against many common, and deadly, infections, and may initiate a new era of antibiotic discovery and development, said study co-author Michael Zasloff, M.D., Ph.D., Professor in the Departments of Surgery and Pediatrics at Georgetown University Medical Center.

Zasloff says that the field of antibiotic development has not changed much since 1929 when Alexander Fleming realized that the fungal "bread mold" Penicillium, which had landed by chance in a Petri dish produced a substance that eliminated colonies of staphylococcal bacteria.

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12-Oct-2005


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