Biofilms are the tough gangs of the bacterial world. Formed when bacteria group together in a kind of gooey raft that adheres to surfaces, biofilms are responsible for up to 80 percent of all infections, according to microbiologist Lindsey N. Shaw from the University of Southern Florida (USF). They're also exceedingly difficult to kill. But Shaw and a team of USF researchers have recently uncovered a compound from a sea sponge found in Antarctica that can get the job done.
The compound comes from a sea sponge known as Dendrilla membranosa and has been named "darwinolide" by the research team. In tests, it was able to kill more than 98 percent of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) cells. MRSA is a type of staph bacteria that has grown resistant to many antibiotics. According to USF, the infection used to be prevalent primarily in nursing homes and hospitals, but has since spread to locations not involving the sick or elderly such as schools and gyms. When found in these environments, it's called community-associated MRSA or CA-MRSA, according to the Mayo Clinic.
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"MRSA is unique in that it can cause infections in almost every niche of the human host, from skin infections, to pneumonia, to endocarditis, a serious infection of tissues lining the heart," says a USF report about the research.
The sponge from which the compound was derived was retrieved by USF chemistry professor Bill Baker and his colleagues. Baker dives in the waters near Palmer Station – one of three US research stations located in Antarctica – looking for marine invertebrates like Dendrilla membranosa from which helpful compounds might be derived and modified. Baker and his group created the darwinolide by chemically rearranging compounds from freeze-dried sponges in Shaw's lab.
The team's research was published online in May 13 in the journal Organic Letters. The researchers hope the discovery will lead to a framework from which dangerous biofilms can be obliterated. Their work joins other discoveries that are potentially useful in combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as the compound teixobactin and natural clay from off the coast of British Columbia.
"We suggest that darwinolide may present a highly suitable scaffold for the development of urgently needed, novel, anti-biofilm-specific antibiotics," they concluded.