Sea squirt microbiome yields compound effective against deadly strain of fungal pathogen
By combing the ocean for new antimicrobials, scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered an antifungal compound that efficiently targets potentially deadly, multidrug-resistant strains of the fungal pathogen Candida auris, without toxic side effects in mice.
The new molecule was discovered in the microbiome of a sea squirt from the Florida Keys, as part of the team’s effort to identify novel antimicrobials from understudied ecosystems. Scientists named the antifungal turbinmicin, after the sea squirt Ecteinascidia turbinate, from which it was isolated. Discovery of turbinmicin is the most tangible output to date, of the group’s five-year, $30 million NIH grant, to identify useful new antimicrobial drugs from bacteria living in overlooked environments.
“Bacteria in particular are rich sources of molecules,” said Tim Bugni, PhD, a professor in the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy who led the turbinmicin project. “But a lot of the terrestrial ecosystems have been pretty heavily mined for drug discovery. There’s immense bacterial diversity in the marine environment and it’s barely been investigated at all.”
Bugni and colleagues describe their discovery of turbinmicin, and the results of in vivo tests in mice, in a paper in Science, which is titled, “A marine microbiome antifungal targets urgent-threat drug-resistant fungi.”
Infectious fungal diseases are among the deadliest threats to global human health, the authors wrote, and nearly 2 million people die globally, every year, from fungal infections. Multidrug-resistance Candida auris, for example, has become a major global threat. “Most recently, the pandrug-resistant “killer fungus,” C. auris, has emerged and is spreading in health care facilities worldwide, prompting an urgent threat alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”
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