Nature and Young Minds against Resistant Bugs

This is a story about the role of a natural substance and young scientists in the silent pandemic of antimicrobial resistance.

by Polykum Redaktion

An antibiotic compound provided by nature

Long before Fleming’s famous discovery of penicillin in 1928, many organisms were already using antimicrobial agents for survival. For example, small worms called entomopathogenic nematodes use antibiotic substances produced by bacteria in their guts to feed on prey. These compounds can subtly beat off pathogens, but are non-toxic for the worms themselves. This phenomenon is interesting because it is what researchers are looking for: substances that are non-toxic to humans but fatal for bugs. Scientists therefore gave those bacteria in the worms a closer look and found darobactin, a peptide that can efficiently kill hard-to-treat bacteria, so- called Gram-negative bacteria. It is darobactin’s mechanism that makes it a unique and interesting drug candidate. Antibiotics often work by penetrating bacteria – a difficult task with Gram- negative bacteria as they are protected by two membranes. Darobactin overcomes this challenge by attacking the so-called BAM complex, which is exposed on the surface. This natural antibiotic works in petri dishes and in mice, but its safety for the treatment on humans has yet to be figured out.

Young scientists for the future

Developing new antimicrobial therapies and diagnostics is crucial, but bringing them to market is a whole other story. Earlier this spring, scientists, politicians, investors, big pharma, and start-ups gathered at the AMR Conference in Basel for a vibrant discussion on this very topic. One thing that particularly stuck with me was a short comment by Louise Norton Smith, head of the global AMR strategy in the UK. She emphasised the importance of students, and the youth in general, in the battle against resistant bugs. Young minds can bring such a huge motivation and a breath of fresh air to the discussion. Moreover, it is this generation that will bear the consequences of the current insufficient response to one of the most pressing global public health challenges. Fortunately, youth involvement was not only discussed theoretically, but also put into practice at the conference: young scientists presented their work on posters and in talks. One of them was Majed Modaresi, a PhD student at Hiller Lab at the University of Basel, who is studying the mode-of-action of substances that disrupt the aforementioned BAM complex.

How to get involved

As the resistance of pathogens is still a neglected topic in lecture halls, it is crucial to raise students’ awareness about this subject and provide opportunities to get involved. One option was proposed at the AMR Conference by Anita Suresh, Deputy Director of Genomics Sequencing at FIND, a Geneva-based non-profit health organisation focusing on universally accessible diagnostic programmes. FIND offers many broad and flexible work opportunities for students. Interested students can simply contact the company, indicating their preferred area of work and the duration of a possible internship.

Alisha Föry, 25,
studies Health Science and Technology in Master’s programme and would like to raise awareness about the spread of antimicrobial resistance in the hope that more young minds begin to contribute to this field of research and development.

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