Possible super antibiotic found in dung-loving mushroom

  • Living
  • Saturday, 21 Mar 2015

The great news is that it may solve the problem of antibiotic resistance – the not so great news is that the mushroom has a thing for horse dung.

In case you missed the memo, chemists around the world have been racing against time to concoct a solution to the growing problem of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. It’s a major threat to the health of the global community, which for a long time has assumed that antibiotics would always be available to cure bacterial illness.

The problem is so serious that a World Health Organisation report released in 2014 classifies it as a “serious threat that […] has the potential to affect anyone, of any age, in any country.” Already, many of the currently available antibiotics are losing their ability to work against infections like tuberculosis and influenza.

A research team led by Markus Aebi, Professor of Mycology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), Switzerland, believe they may have found a solution: copsin.

Coprinopsis cinerea, more commonly known as the inky cap mushroom, has been found to contain copsin, a compound that scientists believe may hold the answer to the world's antibiotic woes. The fungus is also a big fan of horse dung.

The team came across copsin – a compound naturally found in the common inky cap mushroom, Coprinopsis cinerea – while conducting experiments on how the fungus and various bacteria affect each other’s growth.

Lead researcher Andreas Essig and his colleagues from ETH Zurich and the University of Bonn cultivated the fungus in a laboratory, along with several different types of bacteria, and found that the fungus’ presence killed certain bacteria.

Further research demonstrated that copsin produced by the mushroom was responsible for this antibiotic effect. “Copsin kills bacteria by binding to an essential cell wall building block,” says Essig. “The cell wall is the Achilles’ heel of bacteria. And when you disrupt the cell wall synthesis, bacteria usually die rapidly.”

Copsin’s unique way of killing bacteria gives it the edge over normal antibiotics that scientists have been looking for. “The binding pattern of copsin on this building block is very unique and therefore copsin should be active against bacteria resistant to conventional antibiotics,” says Essig.

How did this happen? How did inky cap mushrooms get so clever? And why aren’t they already being used to treat the common cold?

NEXT PAGE: Find out why horse dung may be the ultimate laboratory for producing super antibiotics!

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