According to the American Chemical Society’s journal, Organic Letters, a scientific team from the University of South Florida (USF) has isolated and tested an extract from Antarctic sponge. The extract, dubbed Dendrilla membranosa, yields a natural chemical product that can eliminate up to 98 percent of the serious bacterial infection known as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). This new, natural chemical product that offers potential treatment for MRSA has been named “darwinolide.”
The highly-resistant MRSA staph bacterium has made headlines for being problematic in hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care settings like dialysis centers. In recent years, there have likewise been reports of MRSA appearing at gyms, locker rooms, even schools and daycares.
The Mayo Clinic contends that MRSA’s high resistance is a consequence of unnecessary antibiotic use as well as excessive misuse of products like antibacterial soaps. Bacteria are constantly evolving, and those that are not eliminated instead learn to resist antibiotic treatment. Because MRSA can be difficult to treat, it has become categorized as a “super bug.”
USF microbiologist Dr. Lindsey N. Shaw elaborates about how the MRSA bacteria’s biofilm lends to its high resistance abilities: “Biofilms, formed by many pathogenic bacteria during infection, are a collection of cells coated in a variety of carbohydrates, proteins, and DNA. Up to 80 percent of all infections are caused by biofilms and are resistant to therapy. We desperately need new anti-biofilm agents to treat drug resistant bacterial infections like MRSA.”
The rise of antimicrobial resistance has galvanized scientists to find novel solutions that include searching for answers in nature and in extreme locations. For the USF scientists, their quest involved finding a possible remedy in Antarctic sponges. Darwinolide was created by the researchers as they reorganized the chemical composition of extracts from freeze-dried samples of the Antarctic sponge.
The USF team believes darwinolide has great pharmaceutical potential in the fight against MRSA. USF chemistry professor Dr. Bill Baker, who likewise serves as the director for the USF Center for Drug Discovery and Innovation, explains further: “When we screened darwinolide against MRSA, we found that only 1.6 percent of the bacterium survived and grew. This suggests that darwinolide may be a good foundation for an urgently needed antibiotic effective against biofilms.”
At present, bacterial resistance is outpacing the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts in replacing outmoded antibiotics in the pipeline. Darwinolide’s promising performance in the USF research lab is therefore creating such a buzz.
The USF scientific team concludes, “We suggest that darwinolide may present a highly suitable scaffold for the development of urgently needed, novel, anti-biofilm-specific antibiotics.”