Antarctic Sponge Extract Kills MRSA Cells, May Lead To New Treatment

Researchers at the University of South Florida discovered Dendrilla membranosa, pictured, near Palmer Station, Antarctica. The extract was taken from frozen samples of the sponge before researchers synthesized the substance used to kill MRSA in lab experiments. Photo by Bill Baker/University of South Florida

TAMPA, Fla., May 18 (UPI) — Researchers at the University of South Florida may have found a new weapon against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, which has in recent years rendered useless some of the strongest antibiotics available.

An extract from a sponge in Antarctica, synthesized by researchers, was shown in lab tests to break down biofilms formed by MRSA, killing 98 percent of cells after exposure to it.

MRSA once posed the most danger to patients in hospitals and nursing homes, but in recent years has become increasingly resistant to drugs and can now be found infecting people in gyms, locker rooms and schools, among other commonly used locales.

Forming biofilms for growth and protection, MRSA can infect almost any part of the body, including skin, tissues lining the heart, and the lungs.

“Biofilms, formed by many pathogenic bacteria during infection, are a collection of cells coated in a variety of carbohydrates, proteins and DNA,” Dr. Lindsey Shaw, a microbiologist at the University of South Florida, said in a press release. “Up to 80 percent of all infections are caused by biofilms and are resistant to therapy. We desperately need new anti-biofilm agents to treat drug resistant bacterial infections like MRSA.”

Researchers at USF found the sponge during research trips to Antarctica to study the chemical ecology there, looking for invertebrates to use in a search for natural substances with a potential pharmaceutical use.

For the study, published in the journal Organic Letters, researchers created a synthetic form of the extract called darwinolide, finding just 1.6 percent of the bacteria survived and grew.

“In recent years, MRSA has become resistant to vancomycin and threatens to take away our most valuable treatment option against staph infections,” Shaw said, adding that the research suggests “darwinolide may be a good foundation for an urgently needed antibiotic effective against biofilms.”


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