Fungi – antibiotics of the future?

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Researchers from the Chalmers University of Technology (Gothenburg, Sweden) have examined the genomes of fungi to identify the genes responsible for the production of bioactive compounds. 1317 biosynthetic gene clusters for the production of bioactive compounds were discovered, this immense diversity suggests that the development of new antibiotics and pharmaceuticals is feasible.

There is urgent need to develop new antibiotics to help overcome the antibiotic crisis. Previous studies on new antibiotics have focused on those derived from bacteria, making this study different.

The aim of the research was to sequence genomes of 9 Penicillium species and analyze 15 published genomes that could provide evidence towards a new source of antibiotics. Jens Christian Nielson, Chalmers University, stated: “We found that the fungi have enormous, previously untapped, potential for the production of new antibiotics and other bioactive compounds, such as cancer medicines.”

In this latest study published in Nature Microbiology, researchers followed secondary metabolism, revealing that there is an unexploited potential for this genus. More significantly they identified new fungi capable to produce the antibiotic yanuthone as well as a previously undescribed compound derived from the yanuthone pathway.

Neilson added “It’s important to find new antibiotics in order to give physicians a broad palette of antibiotics, existing ones as well as new ones, to use in treatment. This will make it harder for bacteria to develop resistance.”

The study revealed potential of the Penicillium genus in the production of antibiotics. It also highlights that potential to refine existing antibiotic to produce more effective versions.

Moving forwards, the researchers have new pathways to follow. Future investigation into the production of yanuthone compound variants could be valuable.

The timescale for the commercialization of these new potential antibiotics is unknown. Nielsen concluded: “Governments need to act. The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to spend money on new antibiotics, it’s not lucrative. This is why our governments have to step in and, for instance, support clinical studies. Their support would make it easier to reach the market, especially for smaller companies. This could fuel production.”

Sources: Nielsen JC, Grijseels S, Prigent S, Global analysis of biosynthetic gene clusters reveals vast potential of secondary metabolite production in Penicillium species, Nature Microbiology, doi:10.1038/nmicrobiol.44 (2017); http://www.chalmers.se/en/departments/bio/news/Pages/Fungi-a-source-for-future-antibiotics.aspx

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