Discovering novel drugs in unexpected places
Last updated 25th October 2016
Our research focuses on understanding how natural product antibiotics made by actinomycete bacteria are used in nature. We use tropical Acromyrmex leafcutter ants and Arabidopsis plant roots as model systems. We also explore these systems for novel antibiotics that might help us in the fight against antimicrobial resistance and we want to engineer better antibiotic producing bacterial strains into plant roots to protect them against disease and reduce the use of pesticides.
Matt Hutchings will be giving a free public lecture about Antibiotics in Nature and Medicine as part of the first Norwich Science Festival 2016. It will take place on 29th October in The Curve lecture theatre at the Norwich Forum. Matt's team also have an Antibiotic Hunters display in the Sir Isaac Newton 6th Form college, across the road from the Forum - come and visit on the 29/30th October between 10am and 5 pm.
Recent events have included the Antibiotic Hunters exhibit at Big Bang in March 2015, the "Leafcutter ants and their antibiotics" display at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition from 1st - 5th July 2014 and the "Antibiotic Hunters" exhibit at the Great British Bioscience Festival in November 2014 with colleagues from the John Innes Centre which is our partner on the Norwich Research Park.
About the research
With disease causing bacteria becoming multidrug resistant, scientists at the University of East Anglia are examining underexplored environments such as the deep sea and leafcutter ant nests in the hope they will provide us with the next generation of antibiotics.
Most of our antibiotics are "natural products" made by a group of bacteria called actinomycetes that live in the soil. But when soil bacteria produce these antibiotics they also express resistance genes, to protect them against the antibiotic's toxic effects.
Unfortunately, these resistance genes have spread to other "bad" bacteria, causing antibiotic-resistant strains to evolve which current antibiotics are powerless to treat.
Our research is focussed on discovering novel antibiotics made by the actinomycete bacteria that live on leafcutter ants and we are also using leafcutter ants to try and understand how animals form symbioses with beneficial bacteria.