Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are an increasing threat all around the world, and for the last several years, researchers have been looking at alternatives to antibiotics to fight deadly bacteria. Recently, an unlikely candidate has been discovered, in the form of an unassuming sponge from the seas of Antarctica.
As we previously reported, the World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that the rise of superbugs may be leading us into a “post-antibiotic era,” where diseases once easily remedied could again become deadly. The lack of efficacy of many modern antibiotics against a variety of diseases is becoming an increasing concern, and their failure costs many people their lives.
One of these superbugs is MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that about 80,000 people in the United States contract MRSA each year, and the complications that stem from this infection kill approximately 11,000 of those infected.
How can a sea sponge from the southernmost part of the world help? The answer may lie in a compound known as darwinolide. In a new study published in the journal Organic Letters, researchers from the University of South Florida and the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that the darwinolide compound found in an Antarctic sponge known as Dendrilla membranosa killed 98.4 percent of MRSA cells in initial lab tests.
James McClintock of the University of Alabama, one of the researchers involved in the study, explains that this compound is produced as a defense mechanism by the sponge, to toxically ward off invasions by bacteria in its environment. McClintock states:
“Sponges aren’t protected by shells and they can’t move around. When you’re that leaky, you have a constant battle on your hands.”
By producing compounds toxic to surrounding bacteria, such as darwinolide, the sponge is able to survive in its environment, and avoid becoming infected. Based on the results of this study, this compound could also prove highly useful for humans, especially since there is no effective treatment for MRSA at the moment, and it’s killing thousands of people each year.
Although the researchers have been granted a patent for darwinolide, to date, they still do not know the exact mechanisms by which it works. That said, according to their lab tests so far, it seems that the structure of the compound allows it to penetrate the biofilm, which MRSA exudes to shield itself from antibiotics and other potential remedies.
While a lot more research still needs to be done on this, the discovery of this substance and its effect on MRSA, gives a lot of hope to a lot of people, especially those affected by the resistant bacteria.
Other natural compounds that help fight superbugs
A lot of the foods we eat every day contain potent antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties. Just a few of these include garlic, onions, lemons, raw honey and apple cider vinegar. Studying these foods may help researchers figure out how to best apply their powers to situations of superbug infection. Essential oils can also play an important role.
If you have a minor infection and are otherwise in good health, using garlic, raw honey and essential oils may do the trick. Talk to a natural health professional you trust about situations in which these remedies may be appropriate. If you have a serious illness or infection, you should of course seek medical help.
Having said this, the less antibiotics we as a nation — and as a planet — use, the better. It’s important to save them for when we really need them, lest microorganisms develop even greater resistances.