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Harnessing the power of evolution

against antimicrobial resistance


Plants

The plant kingdom, with 300,000 to 400,000 higher species, was always a key source of new chemical entities (NCEs) for active pharmaceutical ingredients and lead compounds.  It is estimated that only 5% to 15% of these terrestrial plants have been chemically and pharmacologically investigated in a systematic fashion.  Approximately 30,000 of the world’s plants have documented medicinal uses and roughly 150-200 have been incorporated in western medicine.

We are currently screening Kew's collection of the world's plants for novel antimicrobial chemistry that will unlock new mechanism of action antibiotics.

Harnessing the power of evolution

against antimicrobial resistance


Fungi

Similarly, the total number of species of fungi is thought to be very high although estimates vary widely from 250,000 to over 5 million.  Only a few thousands of these have been thoroughly investigated.  There are often different strains of the same species, morphologically similar but with potentially quite diverse metabolites.  Different secondary metabolites can be generated by altering the growing conditions of fungi and many new and diverse chemical structures remain to be discovered.  Penicillin with its beta lactam ring was derived from the fungus Penicillium chrysogenum and the Cephalosporins, also containing the beta lactam ring, were originally derived from the fungus Cephalosporium

Thus fungi are already established as a major source for many of the world's current antibacterial substances.  However, much more remains to be unlocked by intelligent screening.

Harnessing the power of evolution

against antimicrobial resistance


Insects

Insects represent one of the most biodiverse life forms on the planet.  Over 1 million species of insects have been described (estimates of total insect diversity vary from 2.6-7.8 million species).  Some species specifically rely for certain stages of their life cycle on seeking out microenvironments associated with putrifaction which contain some the highest densities of microbes known. Despite their ability to thrive in such environments and their extensive use of novel chemistry to serve other functions, little is known of the chemical strategies they employ against microorganisms.  Insects therefore represent a largely unexploited natural resource of novel antimicrobial substances.

However, medicinal maggots are already widely employed clinical for the treatment of intractable wound infections and we are working with the team at Swansea University lead by Dr Yamni Nigam to characterize a low molecular weight broad spectrum antibacterial substance produced by the exudate.
Harnessing the power of evolution

against antimicrobial resistance
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