Fungi Have Enormous Potential For New Antibiotics

Fungi are a potential goldmine for the production of pharmaceuticals. This is shown by researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, who have developed a method for finding new antibiotics from nature’s own resources. The findings – which could prove very useful in the battle against antibiotic resistance – were recently published in the journal, Nature Microbiology.

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives since they were discovered in the 1940s. But recently we’ve had to learn a new term: antibiotic resistance. More and more bacteria are developing their own protection against antibiotics, thereby becoming resistant to treatment. This will lead to simple infections becoming lethal once again. Our need for new antibiotics is urgent.

The first antibiotic to be mass-produced was penicillin, derived from Penicillium fungi. In their quest for new antibiotics, Chalmers researchers sequenced the genomes of nine different types of Penicillium species. And the findings are amazing:

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

He works in a research team led by another Chalmers researcher with almost the same name: Professor Jens Nielsen.

In the study, the research group scanned the genomes of 24 different kinds of fungi to find genes responsible for the production of various bioactive compounds, like antibiotics. More than 1000 pathways were discovered, showing immense potential for fungi to produce a large variety of natural and bioactive chemicals that could be used as pharmaceuticals.

In about 90 cases, the researchers were able to predict the chemical products of the pathways. As evidence of this, they followed the production of the antibiotic, yanuthone, and identified new fungi able to produce the compound, but also that some species could produce a new version of the drug.

All in all, the study shows vast potential for fungi, not only in producing new antibiotics but also in enabling more efficient production of existing ones – and maybe also more effective versions of the existing ones.

“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,” explains Jens Christian Nielsen.

“Previous efforts to find new antibiotics have mainly focused on bacteria. 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.”

Researchers now have various paths to follow. One way of moving forward could be to look further at the production of the new yanuthone compound. The Chalmers researchers have also drawn up a map that makes it possible to compare hundreds of genes in the continuous evaluation of bioactive products with potent drugs in sight.

How long it would take to launch new antibiotics on the market is impossible to say.

“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,” says Jens Christian Nielsen.

Article: Global analysis of biosynthetic gene clusters reveals vast potential of secondary metabolite production in Penicillium species, Jens Christian Nielsen, Sietske Grijseels, Sylvain Prigent, Boyang Ji, Jacques Dainat, Kristian Fog Nielsen, Jens Christian Frisvad, Mhairi Workman & Jens Nielsen, Nature Microbiology, doi: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2017.44, published 3 April 2017.

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Could Fungi Be A Vast, Untapped Source Of New Antibiotics?

Fungi could harbor a vast treasure trove for new drugs to fight infections caused by bacteria and other microbes. This was the conclusion that scientists from the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden, came to after scanning the genomes of several species of fungi and identifying more than 1,000 pathways that make bioactive compounds. The team believes that the finding could be an important step toward solving the global problem of antibiotic resistance.
Penicillium species
Researchers believe that fungi – such as the 10 different Penicillium species shown here (each grown on two different media) – harbor a vast potential source of new antibiotics to fight infectious diseases.
Image credit: Chalmers University of Technology

The researchers report their findings in a paper published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

Antibiotics are drugs that treat and prevent bacterial infections – either by killing the bacteria or by stopping their spread. Antibiotic resistance arises when the bacteria change after being exposed to these compounds.

Since the 1940s, antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs have dramatically reduced illnesses and deaths from infections caused by microbes.

However, due to the prolonged and widespread use of these drugs, the bacteria and other disease-causing microbes that the medicines are designed to kill have evolved the ability to survive them.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 2 million people contract antibiotic-resistant infections and more than 23,000 people die from them in the United States every year.

The illnesses caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria – which can infect animals as well as humans – are becoming much harder to treat than those caused by non-resistant bacteria.

Fungi less well-understood than bacteria

Fast facts about antibiotic resistance

  • Antibiotic-resistant infections require longer stays in hospital, cost more to treat, and carry a higher risk of death.
  • Antibiotic resistance is one of the most significant threats to public health, food security, and the world’s development.
  • It can affect anyone, no matter how old they are or where they live.

Learn more about antibiotic resistance

The World Health Organization (WHO) have warned that unless the situation is addressed urgently, the world is “heading for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can once again kill.”

Nature is an obvious place to look for compounds with antibiotic properties. Microorganisms produce compounds that attack other species of microorganisms to help them survive in a competitive environment.

However, the researchers behind the new study note that attempts to find new antibiotics in nature have mainly focused on bacteria because they are much easier to study than fungi, about which we understand much less.

However, they note that fungi (much like bacteria) also make bioactive compounds – molecules that have an effect on living cells – to defend against competitors.

The team, therefore, decided to use the genome-sequencing tools that have been used to investigate bacteria to analyze fungi and their potential for producing bioactive compounds.

Altogether, the team sequenced the genomes of nine species of the genus Penicillium – members of which produce the penicillin that Sir Alexander Fleming discovered in 1928.

More than 1,000 pathways for bioactive compounds

The data from these sequences and those obtained from the sequences of 15 published genomes yielded what the authors describe as “an immense, unexploited potential” for producing bioactive compounds in this genus.

From the genome sequencing data of 24 different species of Penicillium, the team identified more than 1,000 pathways – patterns of particular molecular reactions and events – for producing a variety of bioactive compounds with medicinal potential.

The researchers were able to predict the compounds produced by 90 of the pathways – including those that produce antibiotics, called yanuthones.

Upon further investigation, they found a formerly undescribed yanuthone produced by a species of Penicillium that was previously not known to make yanuthones.

Thus, the authors believe that their findings show not only that fungi may offer a vast potential source of new antibiotics, but also that they unlock a source of new – and perhaps more effective – versions of old drugs. They conclude that:

“This study is the first genus-wide analysis of the genomic diversity of Penicillia and highlights the potential of these species as a source of new antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals.”

Seven Herbs and Supplements for Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a widespread disorder affecting the blood sugar and insulin levels in the body. Managing the long-term consequences and complications of diabetes are as much of a challenge as the disease itself.

There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas produces no insulin. Type 2 diabetes is more common. With type 2, the body either does not produce enough insulin or produces insulin that the body does not use properly.

There are many treatment options for people with type 2 diabetes. Growing research suggests that some herbs and supplements may help with the condition.

Useful herbs may be great to combine with more traditional methods to find relief from many type 2 diabetes symptoms.

Seven herbs and supplements

Here are seven herbs and supplements that may be of benefit to people with type 2 diabetes.

Aloe vera

Aloe vera
Studies suggest an antidiabetic potential for aloe that may lower blood sugar levels.

Aloe vera is a common plant with many different uses. Most people are aware of the plant being used to coat the skin and protect it from damage caused by too much sun exposure.

However, the plant has many lesser-known benefits as well. These range from helping digestive issues to possibly even relieving type 2 diabetes symptoms.

One review analyzed many studies using aloe vera to treat symptoms of diabetes. Their results strongly suggested an antidiabetic potential for aloe. Subjects given aloe showed lower blood sugar levels and higher insulin levels.

Further tests showed that aloe helps to increase how much insulin is produced by the pancreas. This could mean that aloe helps to restore bodies with type 2 diabetes or protect them from further damage. The researchers called for more studies to be done on aloe and its extracts to be certain of these effects.

There are many ways to take aloe. The juice pulp is sold in many markets and added to drinks, and extracts are put into capsules to be taken as supplements.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a fragrant herb created from the bark of a tree and is commonly found in kitchens. It has a sweet and spicy fragrance and taste that can add sweetness without any additional sugar. It is popular with people with type 2 diabetes for this reason alone, but there is much more to cinnamon than just flavor.

A review found that subjects with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes who were given cinnamon showed positive results in many different areas such as:

  • blood sugar levels
  • insulin levels
  • insulin sensitivity
  • blood fat levels
  • antioxidant levels
  • blood pressure
  • body mass
  • time to process food

These are important markers for people with diabetes. From this research, it may be said that cinnamon is important for everyone with type 2 diabetes to take.

The researchers did note that the type of cinnamon and the amount taken does have an effect on the results, however. Only the highest quality cinnamon or cinnamon extracts in capsule form should be used as a complementary treatment method.

An experienced health care practitioner should always be consulted before starting to use cinnamon heavily as a supplement.

Bitter melon

bitter melon
Bitter melon is a traditional Chinese and Indian medicinal fruit. Research suggests that the seeds may help to reduce blood sugar levels.

Momordica charantia, also known as bitter melon, is a medicinal fruit. It has been used for centuries in the traditional medicine of China and India. The bitter fruit itself is cooked into many dishes, and the plant’s medicinal properties are still being discovered.

One discovery being backed by science is that bitter melon may help with symptoms of diabetes. One review noted that many parts of the plant have been used to help treat diabetes patients.

Bitter melon seeds were given to both people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes to reduce their blood sugar levels. Blended vegetable pulp mixed with water also lowered blood sugar levels in 86 percent of the type 2 diabetes patients tested. The fruit juice of the bitter melon also helped to improved blood sugar tolerance in many cases.

Eating or drinking the bitter melon can be an acquired taste. Luckily, similar effects were noted with extracts of the fruit taken as supplements as well.

There is not enough evidence to suggest that bitter melon could be used instead of insulin or medication for diabetes. However, it may help patients to rely less on those medications or lower their dosages.

Milk thistle

Milk thistle is a herb that has been used since ancient times for many different ailments and is considered a tonic for the liver. The most studied extract from milk thistle is called silymarin, which is a compound that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It is these properties that may make milk thistle a great herb for people with diabetes.

A review notes that many of the studies on silymarin are promising, but the research is not strong enough to begin recommending the herb or extract alone for diabetes care.

Many people may still find that it is an important part of a care routine, especially since the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties can help protect against further damage caused by diabetes. Milk thistle is most often taken as a supplement.

Fenugreek

Fenugreek is another seed with the potential to lower blood sugar levels. The seeds contain fibers and chemicals that help to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates like sugar. The seeds may also help delay or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.

A recent study found that people with prediabetes were less likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes while taking powdered fenugreek seed. This was caused by the seed increasing the levels of insulin in the body, which also reduced the sugar in the blood.

Researchers found that the seed helped to lower cholesterol levels in patients as well.

Fenugreek can be cooked into certain dishes, added to warm water, or ground into a powder. It can also be added to a capsule to be swallowed as a supplement.

Gymnema

Gymnema is a relatively new herb on the Western market. In the plant’s native home of India, its name means “sugar destroyer.” A recent review noted that both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients given Gymnema have shown signs of improvement.

In people with type 1 diabetes who were given the leaf extract over a period of 18 months, fasting blood sugar levels were lowered significantly when compared to a group that received only insulin.

Other tests using Gymnema found that people with type 2 diabetes responded well to taking both the leaf and its extract over various periods of time. Using Gymnema lowered blood sugar levels and increased insulin levels in the body of some patients.

Using either the ground leaf or leaf extract may be beneficial for many people with diabetes.

Ginger

ginger sliced
Ginger has been used for many years to treat digestive and inflammatory issues. Recent research suggests that it may reduce insulin resistance.

Ginger is another herb that science is just discovering more about. It has been used for thousands of years in traditional medicine systems.

Ginger is often used to help treat digestive and inflammatory issues. However, a recent review posted to shows that it may be helpful in treating diabetes symptoms as well.

In their review, researchers found that supplementing with ginger lowered blood sugar levels, but did not lower blood insulin levels. Because of this, they suggest that ginger may reduce insulin resistance in the body for type 2 diabetes.

It is important to note that the researchers were uncertain as to how ginger does this. More research is being called for to make the claims more certain.

Ginger is often added to food raw or as a powdered herb, brewed into tea, or added to capsules as an oral supplement.

Important considerations for people with diabetes

It is always best to work with a healthcare professional before taking any new herb or supplement. Doctors usually have patients start out on a lower dose and gradually increase it until a comfortable dose is found.

Some herbs can interact with other medications that do the same job, such as blood thinners and high blood pressure medications. It is very important to be aware of any interactions before starting a new supplement.

It is also important for people to get herbs from a high-quality source. Herbs are not monitored by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Products may contain different herbs and fillers, recommend an incorrect dose, or even be contaminated with pesticides.

Herbs and supplements should be seen as a complementary treatment option, and should not replace medications.

Working closely with a knowledgeable healthcare professional, herbs can be a great addition to many care programs for diabetes.