Antibiotic Ocean Microbe Could Be An Anthrax Killer
July 18, 2013

Antibiotic Ocean Microbe Could Be An Anthrax Killer

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Scientists writing in the journal Angewandte Chemie say they have discovered a new chemical compound from an ocean microbe that could open up new treatments for anthrax and other ailments.

The team collected a microorganism that produced the compound close to shore off Santa Barbara, California. Initial testing of the compound, named anthracimycin, revealed its potency as a killer of anthrax, which is an infectious disease feared as a biological weapon.

"The real importance of this work is the fact that anthracimycin has a new and unique chemical structure," said William Fenical at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. "The discovery of truly new antibiotic compounds is quite rare. This discovery adds to many previous discoveries that show that marine bacteria are genetically and chemically unique."

Anthrax is caused by the bacteria Bacillus anthracis, which form spores that are hard-shelled, dormant versions of the bacteria. These spores are what cause infection. They can survive in the soil for many years. It is very rare that people get anthrax from natural causes, but the threat of it being used as a biological warfare agent is very real. In order to get infected by anthrax, all one has to do is inhale anthrax spores.

The team used an analytical technique known as spectroscopy to decipher the structure of a molecule from a microscopic species known as Streptomyces. This discovery provides new evidence that the oceans represent a vast resource of new materials that could help treat a variety of diseases and illnesses.

Although this research brings great potential for a new anthrax treatment, it is not the only one in the works. PharmAthene, a biodefense company developing medical countermeasures against biological and chemical threats, currently has an anthrax vaccine in the second phase of study.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just recently lifted the clinical hold so PharmAthene could continue its study on SparVax.

Scientists have found that anthrax bacteria can survive for some time in a dead carcass even though it may be competing with other bacteria, but the infection cannot be spread by scavengers. A team studying seven zebra and one wildebeest that had just died in the wild from anthrax infection determined that scavengers aren't spreading anthrax. This finding could save a lot of money that wildlife managers are spending to prevent scavengers from feeding on infected carcasses.