Search For New Antibiotics Goes To The Bottom Of Oceans

The $12 million project, undertaken by Aberdeen University, is launched to find a new generation of infection-busting substances among seabeds.

With infections becoming ever more resistant to drugs, scientists are turning to the deep sea in the hope of finding the next generation of antibiotics. Scotland's Aberdeen University is undertaking a $12 million project that will take researchers deep underwater to find undiscovered chemicals on the sea bed. Sites in the Pacific, Antarctic and Arctic will all be investigated, including the Atacama Trench, 100 miles off the Chilean and Peruvian coast, where the Richards Deep plunges to a depth of 8,000 meters.

Using fishing boats, the research team will drop sampling equipment via a cable reel to collect sediment from the trench bed. From the samples, scientists will then attempt to grow unique bacteria and fungi, before extracting and refining them to make new antibiotics. If successful, we could be seeing new treatments within a decade. One of the project's leaders, the university's chemistry professor Marcel Jaspars, said that, with no completely new antibiotic registered in a decade—because antibiotics are not particularly profitable for Big Pharma firms—we could see the state of the world's health return to a particularly grim state. "If nothing is done to combat this problem we're going to be back to a 'pre-antibiotic era' in around 10 or 20 years, where bugs and infections that are currently quite simple to treat could be fatal."

Science is looking at many novel ways of treating infection, with both polymer research and nanomedicine emerging as potential replacements to antibiotic drugs. And a British study has been looking into an old African folk remedy, which uses granulated white sugar, which, when poured onto a wound, heals it and reduces pain faster than some antibiotics.

[Image by Flickr user NOAA Library]

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