Scientists discover fungi has untapped potential to produce new antibiotics and ask for governments help to realise it

Scientists have discovered the potential for new antibiotics by locating the genes responsible for the production of various bioactive compounds, like antibiotics, in 24 different kinds of fungi.

Now they have asked for governments help to turn their discoveries into drugs that can help people.

Using fungi as a source of new antibiotics was discovered by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology who found that fungi produce many more natural and bioactive chemicals than was previously thought.

“We found that the fungi have enormous, previously untapped, potential for the production of new antibiotics and other bioactive compounds, such as cancer medicines,” said Jens Christian Nielsen, a PhD student at the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering.

Image courtesy of Jens Christian Nielsen

Having discovered their potential, the scientists are now calling on governments to support clinical trials that would help kick-start production.

When antibiotics are used, they are typically used with the short-term in mind, in contrast to the long-term therapies that help bring in revenues for pharmaceutical companies.

However, the dangers posed by antibiotic resistance, where simple infections could become lethal once again, means the need for new antibiotics is now urgent.

“Governments need to act. The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t want to spend money on new antibiotics, it’s not lucrative. This is why our governments have to step in and, for instance, support clinical studies. Their support would make it easier to reach the market, especially for smaller companies. This could fuel production,” said Christian Nielsen.

“It’s important to find new antibiotics in order to give physicians a broad palette of antibiotics, existing ones as well as new ones, to use in treatment. This will make it harder for bacteria to develop resistance.”

Image courtesy of Jens Christian Nielsen

The idea to study Fungi was inspired by the fact that the first antibiotic to be mass-produced –penicillin – was derived from Penicillium fungi.

But while previous efforts to find new antibiotics have mainly focused on bacteria, fungi remain an untapped resource.

“Fungi have been hard to study – we know very little of what they can do – but we do know that they develop bioactive substances naturally, as a way to protect themselves and survive in a competitive environment. This made it logical to apply our research tools to fungi,” said Christian Nielsen.

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