Ants' antibiotics to help humans fight resistant superbugs
New York, Feb 7 : Researchers have identified ant species that make powerful antimicrobial agents to help fight off various diseases, a finding that can be used to make new antibiotics for humans as well as help them in their war against resistant superbugs.
"These findings suggest that ants could be a future source of new antibiotics to help fight human diseases," said Clint Penick, Assistant Professor at Arizona State University.
"Finding a species that carries a powerful antimicrobial agent is good news for those interested in finding new antibiotic agents that can help humans," added co-author Adrian Smith, Assistant Research Professor at North Carolina State University.
For the study, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, the team tested the antimicrobial properties associated with 20 ant species, including the thief ant known as Solenopsis molesta.
Solenopsis molesta had the most powerful antibiotic effect of any species we tested -- and until now, no one had even shown that they made use of antimicrobials, Smith said.
The researchers tested the antimicrobial properties by using a solvent to remove all of the substances on the surface of each ant's body.
The resulting solution was then introduced to a bacterial slurry. The growth of the bacteria in the slurry was then compared to the growth of bacteria in a control group.
The slurry containing thief ant compounds showed no bacterial growth at all and was found even more effective against bacteria than the fire ant.
Out of the 20 ant species, 12 had some sort of antimicrobial agent on their exoskeletons.
But eight of the ant species seemed not to make use of antibiotics at all. Or, at least, any antimicrobials on their exoskeletons were ineffective against the bacteria used in the study, the researchers said.
"We thought every ant species would produce at least some type of antimicrobial," Penick said.