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Antibiotic Resistance: Scientists Find Ants as New Way of Attacking Harmful Microbes

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Published on : Feb 08, 2018

In a time where the world is facing antibiotics crisis, a solution to antibiotic resistance could well be under our feet. An Arizona State University research published in Royal Society Open Science has highlighted how the bodily secretions of ants, even those belonging to small colonies, support the production of antimicrobial chemicals. The research was conducted in the U.S. where 20 ant species residing in nests accommodating 80 to 220,000 inhabitants had been investigated. Ants that do not produce antimicrobial chemicals have been studied to use a different method to control bacteria. Ants have evolved ways around their good hygiene habits to combat microbes with the help of their own form of medicine.

Evolution in High-risk Environment Made Ants Potential Source of Vital Antimicrobials

The researchers had predicted the possibility of more effective antimicrobials produced by larger nest ant species on account of a greater risk of contracting disease. However, 60% of the species produced secretions that showed antimicrobial activity when their external secretions were tested against a regular bacterium apparently not evolved to cause disease, Staphylococcus epidermidis. The remaining 40% did not produce any antimicrobial that could eliminate the bacterium. The 40% of ants that did not show any antimicrobial activity have been thought to have another method of restricting the spread of the bacteria. However, it is not clear whether they produce antimicrobial agents that combat other types of microbes.

The study has revealed that ants could be a fine source of new antibiotics. Besides producing their own antimicrobial agents, ants encourage the growth of other beneficial microbes. For instance, researchers have lately discovered a bacterium residing among an ant species that could produce compounds able to kill damaging bacteria resistant to traditional antibiotics, including MRSA, a common superbug.

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