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Natural and powerful antibiotic found in human sweat

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Sweat compound could hold key for new antibiotics.

Scientists who analyzed the atomic structure of sweat think a substance in perspiration could hold the key for treating deadly infections, even those that are antibiotic resistant. One of the natural antibiotics isolated by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, Goettingen, Tuebingen and Strasbourg is dermicidin that could provide a natural source for fighting germs.

Scientists know there are thousands of natural antibiotics that exist, but until now they didn't know how they work.

According to findings published in the journal PloS ONE, antibiotics in sweat, known as antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), protect us from skin infections. But they also work differently than traditional antibiotics because they attack the cell wall of bacteria making it harder for bacteria to develop resistance.

Because the natural substances attack germs so efficiently, the researchers say they have promise for antibiotic development, including staph aureus that has become antibiotic resistant.

Dermicidin is activated in slightly acidic, salty sweat; something researchers have known for some time. Once it becomes activated it forms channels that puncture the cell membrane of bacteria.

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Zinc that is present in sweat helps stabilize dermicidin to attack and kill germs as water and charged zinc particles flow freely across the cell membrane of bacteria.

Dermicidin is also effective for killing fungal infections. The researchers say the compound is highly adaptable to variable membranes.

Dr Ulrich Zachariae of the University of Edinburgh's School of Physics, who took part in the study, said in a press release: "Antibiotics are not only available on prescription. Our own bodies produce efficient substances to fend off bacteria, fungi and viruses. Now that we know in detail how these natural antibiotics work, we can use this to help develop infection-fighting drugs that are more effective than conventional antibiotics."


doi: 10.1073/pnas.1214739110
PNAS February 20, 2013 201214739

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