The world is running out of antibiotics. But we're tapping into a surprising new source - the backs of leafcutter ants.
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.
Prof Matt Hutchings research is focused 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.
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More stories like this
- Watch Prof Hutchings explain the research in his London Lecture
- Find out much more at our leafcutter ant research microsite
- Latest News: Major funding boost for the research from NERC and the Wellcome Trust
- Listen again to Prof Matt Hutchings on BBC Radio 4's Inside Science, discussing antibiotic resistance
Prof Matthew Hutchings
Professor of Molecular Microbiology
School of Biological Sciences
My research interests include the analysis of conserved signal tranduction pathways in the phylum Actinobacteria, developing synthetic biology tools to unlock and discover new antibiotics in filamentous actinomycetes, understanding how nitric oxide acts as a cell division signal in Streptomyces coelicolor and understanding the formation and role of microbial communities (microbiomes) on the fitness and reproduction of animal hosts.