USF researchers: Antarctic sponge could help fight MRSA

- A chemical isolated from a sponge brought back from Antarctica is showing promise in fighting antibiotic-resistant Staphlococcal infections, called MRSA.

University of South Florida researchers have been searching the Antarctic since the 1990's.  They say, because of the extremes in conditions in the area, the creatures that live there have to develop unique protective mechanisms to keep predators or the environment from wiping them out.

In 2011, USF chemistry professor Bill Baker brought back a sponge called Dendrilla membranosa.  USF microbiologist Dr. Lindsey Shaw and his team created an extract from the sponge.  They tested it against the methicillin-resistant Staphlococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria in two ways. 

In the first test, they looked at the bacteria's response to the extract.  Dr. Bill Baker says those results were disappointing. They later found it showed promise not against the MRSA bacteria, but instead against something called a biofilm. 

"Biofilm is probably the natural way bacteria grow in the wild and in human beings," Dr. Shaw explained.  "They get together in these little groups and then they put on a protective coat of proteins and DNA and sugars, and so this particular protective coat just stops the immune system and drugs killing them. And so they've got this natural way to avoid killing by almost anything, so it's the way they like to live; it's cozy, it's protective, and you can't get rid of them."
Initially, the team wasn't very impressed with the extract's performance against the bacteria.  Then, Dr. Baker said, they realized how well it worked against the MRSA biofilm.

"That was really the eureka moment with this -- wow, this thing is four times more potent against the biofilm than it is the free living form, and that was really exciting just to notice that."

The team is calling the discovery Darwinolide and say it will take five or six years before they can even begin to approach clinical trials.

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