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New Antibiotic May Treat MRSA and VRE – Compound Found in South African Soil Could Kill Hospital SuperBug Infections  

May 17th 2006

New Antibiotic May Treat MRSA and VRE – Compound Found in South African Soil Could Kill Hospital SuperBug Infections


Researchers believe that a specific compound taken from bacteria found in the soil of South Africa, may be a cure or treatment for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that 130,000 people each year are treated in the hospital for MRSA. 

Merck scientists discovered by looking at various compounds from around the world.  ABC News recently reported that scientists tested the newly discovered soil bacteria compound on mice infected with staph.  It cleared their infections, and left the mice with no toxic side effects.  Merck scientist Stephen M. Soisson told the Associated Press “We screened over 250,000 extracts that came from things isolated all the way around the world."


The new compound works differently than other antibiotics.  Unlike traditional antibiotics, Platensimycin, inhibits fatty acid synthesis, a chemical action that provides energy to cells.  Traditional antibiotics inhibit growth of the bacteria’s cell wall. 

Eric Brown, a microbiologist with McMaster University in Ontario in an accompanying editorial said “Platensimycin is a significant new antibacterial compound with an extraordinary mechanism."  He added that the safety and effectiveness in humans still needs to be seen. 


Associated Press writer Matt Crenson says that most antibiotics are just modifications of drugs that have been around for half a century.  Matt says that Merck researchers used a clever genetic trick to improved the efficiency of the “drug-hunting process”.

The researchers tested fungi, plants and other natural substances against bacteria with a genetically engineered Achilles' heel.  Since these bacteria were genetically weakened, any compound that harmed them would show up more dramatically, thus making the best drugs easier to identify.


Matt says the Merck scientists chose the genetic handicap carefully.  They placed the handicap in a metabolic pathway that is not attacked by any major existing antibiotic.  This ensured that they could identify compounds that the bacteria had not yet developed a resistance to. 

MRSA may not be the only disease the drug may be effective against.  HealthDay News says that Platensimycin may be an effective treatment against vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus(VRE).  They report that platensimycin, vanquished both MRSA and VRE.  The complete Merck report can be found in the May 18 issue of Nature.

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Dan Wilson
Best Syndication

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