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Ant-ibiotic research to find next-generation drugs unveiled in London

A colony of ants from the School of Biological Sciences have made their way to London to be part of one of the world’s most prestigious science exhibitions.

Researchers from UEA’s school of Biological Sciences are using the ants to help solve the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Their cutting-edge research will be on display at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 2014, which showcases the best in British innovation.

Lead researcher Dr Matt Hutchings said: “Antibiotic resistance is a global health threat. Even common infections which have been treatable for decades can once again kill. Our research is motivated by an urgent need to find new antibiotics.

“We hope that these leafcutter ants will help us solve antibiotic resistance and provide us with the next generation of drugs.

“Leafcutter ants from South and Central America evolved antibiotic use 50 million years ago. They love to eat a particular kind of fungus, which the worker ants protect using natural antibiotics produced by bacteria on their bodies. They’re basically using antibiotics as weed killers to help their fungus gardens grow.

“These ants have already helped us find two new antibiotics which we hope will be useful in clinical medicine.

“We have also discovered that the ants use multiple drug combinations to prevent drug resistance from arising. So by using multiple antibiotics at once, we can slow the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. This is something that human medicine is only just starting to explore.”


Dr Hutchings and his team will showcase a captive leafcutter ant colony, alongside an ‘antibiotic discovery zone’ at the Summer Science Exhibition. The event runs from July 1-6, at the Royal Society, 6-9 Carlton House Terrace, London, and entry is free. 

Find out more about Dr Hutchings’ research on leafcutter ants