Canadian Grass Fungus Could Help Fight Superbugs

June 27, 2014
Adam Hochron

The newest tool in the fight against drug-resistant germs may come from underneath the feet of people in Nova Scotia.

The newest tool in the fight against drug-resistant germs may come from underneath the feet of people in Nova Scotia.

A study released by a team from McMaster University in Ontario and published in the journal Nature has found a fungus in the Canadian soil that can “disarm” one such well-known gene, which is commonly referred to as New Delhi Metallo-beta-Lactamese-1 (NDM-1).

As the gene was identified as a global health threat by the World Health Organization (WHO), finding something to combat it was viewed as a victory for the research team.

“This is public enemy number one,” said Gerry Wright, Director of McMaster's Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research. “It came out of nowhere, it has spread everywhere, and has basically killed our last resource of antibiotics, the last pill on the shelf, used to treat serious infections. By neutralizing it, gene medications like penicillin are able to do their job and help treat patients more effectively."

With no new classes of antibiotics developed in over 30 years, new advancements like the fungus in Nova Scotia could provide unmeasurable help to physicians for their ill patients.

“Not only do we have the emergence of an antibiotic-resistant gene that is targeting the last drug resource we have left, but it is carried by organisms that cause all sorts of challenging diseases and are multi-drug-resistant already,” Wright said.

According the Wright, the discovery comes at a time when NDM-1 has been found in not only a variety of environments, including clinics, but also in contaminated water in Asia, which has helped it to spread around the globe.

“Our thinking was that if we could find a molecule that blocks NDM-1, then these antibiotics would be useful again," he noted.

Part of the funding for the study was provided by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the Canada Research Chairs in Infectious Disease Pathogenesis and Antibiotic Chemistry.