Title Title
Big Read: Loss of tropical forests threatens search for antibiotics Big Read: Loss of tropical forests threatens search for antibiotics
Summary Summary
  The loss of swathes of tropical forest is robbing medical researchers of vital sources of new antibiotics and other medicines
Highlights Highlights
  Ethnobiologists explore the world's shrinking tropical forests , Forests not big pharma seem to hold the key on antibiotics , Putting the "ant" into antibiotics
Content Content
<blockquote>'There are lots of plants in tropical forests that have not yet been investigated, and we’re facing an alarming grade of deforestation' - <em>Ethnobotanist Cassandra Quave</em></blockquote> <blockquote>'There are lots of plants in tropical forests that have not yet been investigated, and we’re facing an alarming grade of deforestation' - <em>Ethnobotanist Cassandra Quave</em></blockquote>
<strong>It's long been commonly known that <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/" rel="external">deforestation is contributing to climate change</a>, but its effect on the discovery of new drugs is much less understood.</strong> <strong>It's long been commonly known that <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/" rel="external">deforestation is contributing to climate change</a>, but its effect on the discovery of new drugs is much less understood.</strong>
A recent <a href="http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/rational_use/antibacterial_agents_clinical_development/en/" rel="external">World Health Organization report</a> warns there's a critical lack of new antibiotics in the pipeline to combat the threat of antibiotic resistance. Globally, 700,000 people die every year because of antibiotic resistance, and by 2050 this is expected to rise to 10 million, according to a report by <a href="https://amr-review.org/Publications.html" rel="external">The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance</a>, which was commissioned and supported by the UK Government and Wellcome Trust, although operated with full independence from both. A recent <a href="http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/rational_use/antibacterial_agents_clinical_development/en/" rel="external">World Health Organization report</a> warns there's a critical lack of new antibiotics in the pipeline to combat the threat of antibiotic resistance. Globally, 700,000 people die every year because of antibiotic resistance, and by 2050 this is expected to rise to 10 million, according to a report by <a href="https://amr-review.org/Publications.html" rel="external">The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance</a>, which was commissioned and supported by the UK Government and Wellcome Trust, although operated with full independence from both.
But scientists believe tropical forest plants and animals could be a source of new antibiotics to replace the current failing stock. But scientists believe tropical forest plants and animals could be a source of new antibiotics to replace the current failing stock.
After the so called ‘<a href="https://academic.oup.com/jac/article/71/3/572/2364412#37777031">golden age</a>’ of antibiotic discovery in the 1950s and 60s, scientists appeared to have exhausted the possibilities of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actinomycetales">actinomycetes</a> - a bacteria from which many antibiotics can be formulated. Researchers then moved on to new methods by creating chemical compounds in a lab. After the so called ‘<a href="https://academic.oup.com/jac/article/71/3/572/2364412#37777031">golden age</a>’ of antibiotic discovery in the 1950s and 60s, scientists appeared to have exhausted the possibilities of the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actinomycetales">actinomycetes</a> - a bacteria from which many antibiotics can be formulated. Researchers then moved on to new methods by creating chemical compounds in a lab.
However, billions of dollars later, that didn’t bring the results pharmaceutical companies had hoped for. Many of them abandoned work on new drugs in favor of the guaranteed profitability of improving existing ones. However, billions of dollars later, that didn’t bring the results pharmaceutical companies had hoped for. Many of them abandoned work on new drugs in favor of the guaranteed profitability of improving existing ones.
But a combination of over-prescription, people not finishing their course of antibiotics, which leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and lack of new drug discoveries has caused a rise in antibiotic resistance. This has prompted a renewed interest in deriving new drugs from natural products, <a href="http://projects.thestar.com/antibiotics-resistance-and-the-race-for-new-bacteria/#one">often from largely untapped environments</a>, (as this piece in the Toronto Star showed.) But a combination of over-prescription, people not finishing their course of antibiotics, which leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and lack of new drug discoveries has caused a rise in antibiotic resistance. This has prompted a renewed interest in deriving new drugs from natural products, <a href="http://projects.thestar.com/antibiotics-resistance-and-the-race-for-new-bacteria/#one">often from largely untapped environments</a>, (as this piece in the Toronto Star showed.)
<h2>Forest as pharmacy</h2> <h2>Forest as pharmacy</h2>
One such environment is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_forest">tropical forests</a>. They <a href="http://www.rainforestfoundation.org/commonly-asked-questions-and-facts/">cover less than seven percent</a> (rainforest foundation) of the Earth’s surface yet are home to about 50 percent of all land animal and plant species. One such environment is <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_forest">tropical forests</a>. They <a href="http://www.rainforestfoundation.org/commonly-asked-questions-and-facts/">cover less than seven percent</a> (rainforest foundation) of the Earth’s surface yet are home to about 50 percent of all land animal and plant species.
[caption id="attachment_17219" align="aligncenter" width="620"]<img class="size-medium wp-image-17219" src="https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wikitribune-uploads-master/2017/08/tropical-forests-map-1-620x439.jpg" alt="Tropical forests world map (CC BY SA 4.0)" width="620" height="439" /> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_forest" rel="external">Tropical forests world map</a> (CC BY SA 4.0)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_17219" align="aligncenter" width="620"]<img class="size-medium wp-image-17219" src="https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wikitribune-uploads-master/2017/08/tropical-forests-map-1-620x439.jpg" alt="Tropical forests world map (CC BY SA 4.0)" width="620" height="439" /> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_forest" rel="external">Tropical forests world map</a> (CC BY SA 4.0)[/caption]
Drugs used to treat malaria, cancer and glaucoma all originally came from tropical forests and around <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Environmental_and_Economic_Impact_on_Sus.html?id=Gn_zDQAAQBAJ&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;source=kp_read_button&amp;redir_esc=y#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false" rel="external">120 prescription drugs</a> sold globally originate from rainforest plants. Forty<a href="http://www2.ups.edu/faculty/bdasher/Chem361/Review_Articles_files/Drugs%20from%20Plants.pdf" rel="external"> percent</a> of anticancer drugs available between 1940 and 2002 were made from natural or naturally derived products. Drugs used to treat malaria, cancer and glaucoma all originally came from tropical forests and around <a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Environmental_and_Economic_Impact_on_Sus.html?id=Gn_zDQAAQBAJ&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;source=kp_read_button&amp;redir_esc=y#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false" rel="external">120 prescription drugs</a> sold globally originate from rainforest plants. Forty<a href="http://www2.ups.edu/faculty/bdasher/Chem361/Review_Articles_files/Drugs%20from%20Plants.pdf" rel="external"> percent</a> of anticancer drugs available between 1940 and 2002 were made from natural or naturally derived products.
Quinine, which is on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO)<a href="http://www.who.int/medicines/publications/essentialmedicines/20th_EML2017.pdf?ua=1" rel="external"> essential medicine list</a>, and used for treating malaria, comes from the bark of a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinchona" rel="external">Cinchona tree</a>,which is found in the tropical forests of the Andes, South America. And from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physostigma_venenosum" rel="external">Calabar bean</a>, originating in the tropical forests of Africa, comes the drug <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physostigmine" rel="external">Physostigmine</a>, which is used to treat <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glaucoma" rel="external">glaucoma</a> – a condition where the nerve that connects your eye and brain becomes damaged and can lead to vision loss. It is the <a href="https://www.iapb.org/knowledge/what-is-avoidable-blindness/glaucoma/">second biggest cause of blindness</a> across the globe. Quinine, which is on the World Health Organisation’s (WHO)<a href="http://www.who.int/medicines/publications/essentialmedicines/20th_EML2017.pdf?ua=1" rel="external"> essential medicine list</a>, and used for treating malaria, comes from the bark of a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinchona" rel="external">Cinchona tree</a>,which is found in the tropical forests of the Andes, South America. And from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physostigma_venenosum" rel="external">Calabar bean</a>, originating in the tropical forests of Africa, comes the drug <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physostigmine" rel="external">Physostigmine</a>, which is used to treat <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glaucoma" rel="external">glaucoma</a> – a condition where the nerve that connects your eye and brain becomes damaged and can lead to vision loss. It is the <a href="https://www.iapb.org/knowledge/what-is-avoidable-blindness/glaucoma/">second biggest cause of blindness</a> across the globe.
However, with more than<a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-daily-destruction/" rel="external"> 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest</a> and 135 species of plants and animals being lost daily, (according to <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-daily-destruction/">this report</a> in <em>The Scientific American </em>and attributed to the FAO) extracting drugs from this environment might no longer be possible in the near future. However, with more than<a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-daily-destruction/" rel="external"> 80,000 acres of tropical rainforest</a> and 135 species of plants and animals being lost daily, (according to <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-daily-destruction/">this report</a> in <em>The Scientific American </em>and attributed to the FAO) extracting drugs from this environment might no longer be possible in the near future.
Cassandra Quave is an "ethnobotanist" -- a scientist who works on drugs derived from plant. She says: “You have mega-corporations just destroying these forests, [while] scientists like myself have great difficulty in even accessing these biological resources to study them before they’re gone." Cassandra Quave is an "ethnobotanist" -- a scientist who works on drugs derived from plant. She says: “You have mega-corporations just destroying these forests, [while] scientists like myself have great difficulty in even accessing these biological resources to study them before they’re gone."
[caption id="attachment_17190" align="aligncenter" width="620"]<img class="size-medium wp-image-17190" src="https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wikitribune-uploads-master/2017/08/rainforest-chopped-down-620x465.jpg" alt="amazon rainforest chopped down (CC BY 2.0)" width="620" height="465" /> '<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/1524189000">Slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon</a>' (Photo: by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/">Matt Zimmerman,</a> CC BY 2.0)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_17190" align="aligncenter" width="620"]<img class="size-medium wp-image-17190" src="https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wikitribune-uploads-master/2017/08/rainforest-chopped-down-620x465.jpg" alt="amazon rainforest chopped down (CC BY 2.0)" width="620" height="465" /> '<a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/1524189000">Slash and burn agriculture in the Amazon</a>' (Photo: by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/">Matt Zimmerman,</a> CC BY 2.0)[/caption]
Partly because of deforestation, current extinction rates are 100-to-1,000 times higher than natural background rates and as many as <a href="https://www.bgci.org/files/Worldwide/Publications/PDFs/medicinal.pdf" rel="external">15,000 medicinal plants</a> are under threat, according to botanical gardens group <a href="https://www.bgci.org/about-us/">BGCI</a>. Of known plant species, <a href="https://www.bgci.org/files/Worldwide/Publications/PDFs/medicinal.pdf" rel="external">70,000</a> are recognized as medicinal, let alone having other potential uses such as a material or food. Predictions vary, but <a href="http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1078&amp;context=ebl">less than 15 percent</a> of plant species have been screened for their medicinal potential.  Partly because of deforestation, current extinction rates are 100-to-1,000 times higher than natural background rates and as many as <a href="https://www.bgci.org/files/Worldwide/Publications/PDFs/medicinal.pdf" rel="external">15,000 medicinal plants</a> are under threat, according to botanical gardens group <a href="https://www.bgci.org/about-us/">BGCI</a>. Of known plant species, <a href="https://stateoftheworldsplants.com/">over 28,000</a> are recognized as medicinal, let alone having other potential uses such as a material or food. Predictions vary, but <a href="http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1078&amp;context=ebl">less than 15 percent</a> of plant species have been screened for their medicinal potential.
The difficult part is finding the drugs from so many plants. For every 10,000 compounds screened for medicinal properties, about 250 make it to clinical trials,<a href="http://www.milkenreview.org/articles/financing-high-risk-medical-research" rel="external"> according to the <em>Milken Institute Review</em></a>. Of those only one<a href="http://www.milkenreview.org/articles/financing-high-risk-medical-research" rel="external"> </a>will eventually become an approved drug. The difficult part is finding the drugs from so many plants. For every 10,000 compounds screened for medicinal properties, about 250 make it to clinical trials,<a href="http://www.milkenreview.org/articles/financing-high-risk-medical-research" rel="external"> according to the <em>Milken Institute Review</em></a>. Of those only one<a href="http://www.milkenreview.org/articles/financing-high-risk-medical-research" rel="external"> </a>will eventually become an approved drug.
<h2>Ethnobotanists fight back</h2> <h2>Ethnobotanists fight back</h2>
Ethnobotanist Quave, who studies plants and their practical applications using indigenous knowledge, describes her endeavors as a “lost art.” Ethnobotanist Quave, who studies plants and their practical applications using indigenous knowledge, describes her endeavors as a “lost art.”
She leads an antibiotic drug discovery research team at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. <a href="http://etnobotanica.us/" rel="external">The Quave Research Group</a> is looking for what are called ‘antibiotic potentiators.’ They can be used to restore effectiveness to antibiotics that have been rendered impotent by bacterial resistance. Her team is looking for treatments for super fungus <em>Candida Auris</em>, which is resistant to many drugs.  She leads an antibiotic drug discovery research team at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. <a href="http://etnobotanica.us/" rel="external">The Quave Research Group</a> is looking for what are called ‘antibiotic potentiators.’ They can be used to restore effectiveness to antibiotics that have been rendered impotent by bacterial resistance. Her team is looking for treatments for super fungus <em>Candida auris</em>, which is resistant to many drugs.
Quave also wants to draw attention to curing fungal infections, as she says there are few chemical classes that currently treat them. Quave also wants to draw attention to curing fungal infections, as she says there are few chemical classes that currently treat them.
<figure id="attachment_17174" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><img class="size-medium wp-image-17174" src="https://www.wikitribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/0011801-17AB-F159-1_low-res-620x413.jpg" alt="Cassandra Quave in lab (CC BY SA 3.0)" width="620" height="413" /><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">Ethnobiologist Cassandra Quave in her lab (CC BY SA 3.0)</figcaption></figure> <figure id="attachment_17174" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><img class="size-medium wp-image-17174" src="https://www.wikitribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/0011801-17AB-F159-1_low-res-620x413.jpg" alt="Cassandra Quave in lab (CC BY SA 3.0)" width="620" height="413" /><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">Ethnobiologist Cassandra Quave in her lab (CC BY SA 3.0)</figcaption></figure>
The team she leads extracts chemical compounds from plants, traditionally used as medicines, to produce drugs. Most pharmaceutical labs now synthetically make the chemical compounds from which drugs are derived. But the Quave Group takes the natural approach: her team now has around 1,200 extracts from more than 400 different species it has collected. The team she leads extracts chemical compounds from plants, traditionally used as medicines, to produce drugs. Most pharmaceutical labs now synthetically make the chemical compounds from which drugs are derived. But the Quave Group takes the natural approach: her team now has around 1,200 extracts from more than 400 different species it has collected.
The plants shipped in to the university come from south-east U.S. states like Georgia and Florida and countries in the <a href="http://www.cepf.net/where_we_work/regions/europe_central_asia/mediterranean/Pages/default.aspx">Mediterranean basin</a> (critical ecosystem partnership fund) and the Balkans, including Italy, Albania and Lebanon. However, Quave still gets out in the field. This summer she was out with students working on the Aegadian islands (corrected from Aeolian islands), off the coast of Sicily, because of the islands’ remoteness and endemic species. The plants shipped in to the university come from south-east U.S. states like Georgia and Florida and countries in the <a href="http://www.cepf.net/where_we_work/regions/europe_central_asia/mediterranean/Pages/default.aspx">Mediterranean basin</a> (critical ecosystem partnership fund) and the Balkans, including Italy, Albania and Lebanon. However, Quave still gets out in the field. This summer she was out with students working on the Aegadian islands (corrected from Aeolian islands), off the coast of Sicily, because of the islands’ remoteness and endemic species.
<p align="LEFT">Quave says she would like to be able to study plants from tropical forests too, but that it’s very difficult to get permits to take plant samples from countries in this environment.</p> <p align="LEFT">Quave says she would like to be able to study plants from tropical forests too, but that it’s very difficult to get permits to take plant samples from countries in this environment.</p>
<p align="LEFT">“I think that there are lots of plants in tropical forests that have not yet been investigated, and we’re facing an alarming grade of deforestation in tropical forests, due to mining, logging and gold and natural resource extraction that’s just destroying large tracks of land … tropical forests are definitely one of those high risk areas where we are rapidly losing those resources for drug discovery.”</p> <p align="LEFT">“I think that there are lots of plants in tropical forests that have not yet been investigated, and we’re facing an alarming grade of deforestation in tropical forests, due to mining, logging and gold and natural resource extraction that’s just destroying large tracks of land … tropical forests are definitely one of those high risk areas where we are rapidly losing those resources for drug discovery.”</p>
<figure id="attachment_17168" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><img class="size-medium wp-image-17168" src="https://www.wikitribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/19933181_1352607651501040_3253847196017098752_n-620x620.jpg" alt="Cassandra Quave in Sicily with plant samples (CC BY-SA 3.0)" width="620" height="620" /><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">Cassandra Quave in Sicily with plant samples (CC BY-SA 3.0). Instagram <a class="_2g7d5 notranslate _iadoq" title="quaveethnobot" href="https://www.instagram.com/quaveethnobot/" rel="external">quaveethnobot</a></figcaption></figure> <figure id="attachment_17168" class="wp-caption aligncenter"><img class="size-medium wp-image-17168" src="https://www.wikitribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/19933181_1352607651501040_3253847196017098752_n-620x620.jpg" alt="Cassandra Quave in Sicily with plant samples (CC BY-SA 3.0)" width="620" height="620" /><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">Cassandra Quave in Sicily with plant samples (CC BY-SA 3.0). Instagram <a class="_2g7d5 notranslate _iadoq" title="quaveethnobot" href="https://www.instagram.com/quaveethnobot/" rel="external">quaveethnobot</a></figcaption></figure>
She is also concerned by the loss of collective memory from indigenous peoples who have used medicinal plants for thousands of years. She is also concerned by the loss of collective memory from indigenous peoples who have used medicinal plants for thousands of years.
“We use that lens of culture also in our drug discovery efforts ... knowledge of how those [plants] have been used over centuries for food and medicine, and survival,” she says. “It is important to highlight the need to record these things [plants], and help preserve these areas, and create safe havens for these people before it’s all gone.” “We use that lens of culture also in our drug discovery efforts ... knowledge of how those [plants] have been used over centuries for food and medicine, and survival,” she says. “It is important to highlight the need to record these things [plants], and help preserve these areas, and create safe havens for these people before it’s all gone.”
<h2>Putting the "ant" into antibiotics</h2> <h2>Putting the "ant" into antibiotics</h2>
A microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, <a href="https://www.uea.ac.uk/community-university-engagement/awards/matt-hutchings" rel="external">Matt Hutchings</a>, is leading a team looking for sources of antibiotics in the nests of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leafcutter_ant" rel="external">leafcutter ants</a> which live in the rainforests of<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leafcutter_ant" rel="external"> </a>central and South America. Leafcutter ants could provide major breakthroughs for new antibiotics. The last natural product antibiotic to be introduced was<a href="https://www.uea.ac.uk/leafcutter-ants/antibiotics"> daptomycin, discovered in 1987</a>, so new drugs are desperately needed. A microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, <a href="https://www.uea.ac.uk/community-university-engagement/awards/matt-hutchings" rel="external">Matt Hutchings</a>, is leading a team looking for sources of antibiotics in the nests of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leafcutter_ant" rel="external">leafcutter ants</a> which live in the rainforests of<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leafcutter_ant" rel="external"> </a>central and South America. Leafcutter ants could provide major breakthroughs for new antibiotics. The last natural product antibiotic to be introduced was<a href="https://www.uea.ac.uk/leafcutter-ants/antibiotics"> daptomycin, discovered in 1987</a>, so new drugs are desperately needed.
[caption id="attachment_18811" align="aligncenter" width="620"]<img class="size-medium wp-image-18811" src="https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wikitribune-uploads-master/2017/08/me-with-a-captive-colony-620x438.jpeg" alt="Microbiologist Matt Hutchings UEA with leafcutter ants" width="620" height="438" /> Microbiologist Matt Hutchings UEA with Acromyrmex echinatior leafcutter ants (Credit: CC BY SA 3.0 Matt Hutchings University of East Anglia)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_18811" align="aligncenter" width="620"]<img class="size-medium wp-image-18811" src="https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wikitribune-uploads-master/2017/08/me-with-a-captive-colony-620x438.jpeg" alt="Microbiologist Matt Hutchings UEA with leafcutter ants" width="620" height="438" /> Microbiologist Matt Hutchings UEA with Acromyrmex echinatior leafcutter ants (Credit: CC BY SA 3.0 Matt Hutchings University of East Anglia)[/caption]
He works with<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acromyrmex_echinatior"> Acromyrmex echinatior leafcutter ants</a> collected in Gamboa, Panama. The ants gather leaves in the rainforest and feed them to a fungus known as <em>Leucoagaricus gongylophorus</em>, which in return supplies them with food. Antibiotic-producing bacteria which live on the ants, known as actinomyces, are the raw material for <a href="https://www.uea.ac.uk/leafcutter-ants/antibiotics" rel="external">60 percent</a> of known antibiotics. The ants feed the bacteria living on them through specialized glands in their exoskeletons and use the antibiotics produced by these bacteria to kill off other microbes that would otherwise infect their fungus garden. If the ants smell infected parts of the fungus they remove it, dump it away from the nest and use anti fungal antibiotics on it to sterilize it. Ant species that farm fungi (<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fungus-growing_ants" rel="external">Attini ants</a>)<b> </b>have most likely been using antibiotics <a href="https://www.uea.ac.uk/leafcutter-ants/about-leafcutter-ants" rel="external">for more than 50 million years</a> to protect these fungus gardens from pests. He works with<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acromyrmex_echinatior"> Acromyrmex echinatior leafcutter ants</a> collected in Gamboa, Panama. The ants gather leaves in the rainforest and feed them to a fungus known as <em>Leucoagaricus gongylophorus</em>, which in return supplies them with food. Antibiotic-producing bacteria which live on the ants, known as actinomyces, are the raw material for <a href="https://www.uea.ac.uk/leafcutter-ants/antibiotics" rel="external">60 percent</a> of known antibiotics. The ants feed the bacteria living on them through specialized glands in their exoskeletons and use the antibiotics produced by these bacteria to kill off other microbes that would otherwise infect their fungus garden. If the ants smell infected parts of the fungus they remove it, dump it away from the nest and use anti fungal antibiotics on it to sterilize it. Ant species that farm fungi (<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fungus-growing_ants" rel="external">Attini ants</a>)<b> </b>have most likely been using antibiotics <a href="https://www.uea.ac.uk/leafcutter-ants/about-leafcutter-ants" rel="external">for more than 50 million years</a> to protect these fungus gardens from pests.
<blockquote>'They’ve been giving antibiotics out like Smarties, which is the worst thing you can do.' - <em>microbiologist Matt Hutchings</em></blockquote> <blockquote>'They’ve been giving antibiotics out like Smarties, which is the worst thing you can do.' - <em>microbiologist Matt Hutchings</em></blockquote>
The team Hutchings leads is isolating bacteria from the ants, and seeing if the antibiotics they produce prevent other harmful bacteria from growing. He says the team has identified antibiotics which could be very powerful against ‘superbugs’ like MRSA, (<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methicillin-resistant_Staphylococcus_aureus">methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus</a>) which has been a serious problem in hospitals. The team Hutchings leads is isolating bacteria from the ants, and seeing if the antibiotics they produce prevent other harmful bacteria from growing. He says the team has identified antibiotics which could be very powerful against ‘superbugs’ like MRSA, (<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methicillin-resistant_Staphylococcus_aureus">methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus</a>) which has been a serious problem in hospitals.
And while Hutchings believes only 10 percent of the antibiotics that are made by actinomyces have been discovered, leaving huge room for potential, he says the problem boils down to money: “Who wants to invest billions of dollars to find new antibiotics? Drug companies don’t want to pay for it. Governments can’t afford to pay for it. Antibiotics don’t make any money, basically.” And while Hutchings believes only 10 percent of the antibiotics that are made by actinomyces have been discovered, leaving huge room for potential, he says the problem boils down to money: “Who wants to invest billions of dollars to find new antibiotics? Drug companies don’t want to pay for it. Governments can’t afford to pay for it. Antibiotics don’t make any money, basically.”
Hutchings says while the antibiotics we have are fantastic we have used them badly. "They’ve just been giving them out like Smarties, which is the worst thing you can do.” Hutchings says while the antibiotics we have are fantastic we have used them badly. "They’ve just been giving them out like Smarties, which is the worst thing you can do.”
He hopes we’ve learned our lesson now, "so [that] when we develop a new generation of antibiotics, they’ll be used very carefully.” He hopes we’ve learned our lesson now, "so [that] when we develop a new generation of antibiotics, they’ll be used very carefully.”
[caption id="attachment_18812" align="aligncenter" width="465"]<img class="size-medium wp-image-18812" src="https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wikitribune-uploads-master/2017/08/fungus-garden-chamber-in-a-captive-colony-465x620.jpg" alt="Leafcutter ants fungus garden chamber" width="465" height="620" /> Leafcutter ants fungus garden chamber (Credit: CC BY SA 3.0 Matt Hutchings University of East Anglia)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_18812" align="aligncenter" width="465"]<img class="size-medium wp-image-18812" src="https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wikitribune-uploads-master/2017/08/fungus-garden-chamber-in-a-captive-colony-465x620.jpg" alt="Leafcutter ants fungus garden chamber" width="465" height="620" /> Leafcutter ants fungus garden chamber (Credit: CC BY SA 3.0 Matt Hutchings University of East Anglia)[/caption]
<ul> <ul>
<li class="mceTemp">The London<a href="https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/"> Science Museum</a> is holding a major exhibition about antibiotic-resistant bacteria called <a href="https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/superbugs-fight-our-lives?gclid=Cj0KCQiAlpDQBRDmARIsAAW6-DOCrE90ezhl-JZSHU0barW3xRYLnFG0FOpx5Xwx-FQaJmHmMkT4WM4aAkKZEALw_wcB"><em>Superbugs: The Fight for Our Lives, </em></a>which runs until spring 2019.</li>  <li class="mceTemp">The London<a href="https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/"> Science Museum</a> is holding a major exhibition about antibiotic-resistant bacteria called <a href="https://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/superbugs-fight-our-lives?gclid=Cj0KCQiAlpDQBRDmARIsAAW6-DOCrE90ezhl-JZSHU0barW3xRYLnFG0FOpx5Xwx-FQaJmHmMkT4WM4aAkKZEALw_wcB"><em>Superbugs: The Fight for Our Lives, </em></a>which runs until spring 2019.</li>
</ul> </ul>
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  <h2>References</h2>
  <ul>
  <li><a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Environmental_and_Economic_Impact_on_Sus.html?id=Gn_zDQAAQBAJ&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;source=kp_read_button&amp;redir_esc=y#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=true">Environmental and Economic Impact on Sustainable Development</a>. Brebbia, C. and Miralles i Garcia, J. (2017). WIT Press.</li>
  <li><a href="http://www.cepf.net/where_we_work/regions/europe_central_asia/mediterranean/Pages/default.aspx"><i>Mediterranean Basin</i></a>. Cepf.net. (2017).</li>
  <li><a href="https://academic.oup.com/jac/article/71/3/572/2364412#37777031">Antibiotics: from prehistory to the present day</a>. Gould, K. (2016). <i>Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy</i>, 71(3), pp.572-575.</li>
  <li><a href="https://www.bgci.org/files/Worldwide/Publications/PDFs/medicinal.pdf">Plants for life: Medicinal plant conservation and botanic gardens.</a> Hawkins, B. (2008) Richmond, U.K.: Botanic Gardens Conservation International. ISBN: : 1-905164-21-1</li>
  <li><a href="https://www.iapb.org/knowledge/what-is-avoidable-blindness/glaucoma/"><i>Glaucoma &#8211; IAPB</i></a>. IAPB. (2017)</li>
  <li><a href="http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1078&amp;context=ebl">Origins of Plant Derived Medicines: Animal Health Research Unit &amp; Plant Molecular biology Research Unit.</a> Maridass, M. and John De Britto, A. (2008). <i>Ethnobotanical Leaflets</i>, 12, pp.373-387.</li>
  <li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10706275">Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities</a>. Myers, N., Mittermeier, R., Mittermeier, C., da Fonseca, G. and Kent, J. (2000).<i>Nature</i>, 403(6772), pp.853-8. DOI: 10.1038/35002501 PMID: 10706275</li>
  <li><a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/"><i>Deforestation and Its Effect on the Planet</i></a>. Nationalgeographic.com. (2017).</li>
  <li><a href="http://www.rainforestfoundation.org/commonly-asked-questions-and-facts/">Commonly Asked Questions and Facts | Rainforest Foundation US</a>. Rainforestfoundation.org. (2017).</li>
  <li><a href="https://stateoftheworldsplants.com/2017/report/SOTWP_2017.pdf">State of the World&#8217;s Plants 2017</a>. (2017). Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.</li>
  <li><a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-daily-destruction/">Measuring the Daily Destruction of the World&#8217;s Rainforests</a>. Scientific American. (2017).</li>
  <li><a href="https://www.uea.ac.uk/leafcutter-ants/antibiotics"><i>Antibiotics &#8211; Leafcutter Ants</i></a>. Uea.ac.uk. (2017).</li>
  <li><a href="https://www.uea.ac.uk/leafcutter-ants/about-leafcutter-ants"><i>Leafcutter ants &#8211; Leafcutter Ants</i></a>. Uea.ac.uk. (2017).</li>
  <li><a href="https://amr-review.org/Publications.html"><i>Tackling Drug-Resistant Infections Globally: final report and recommendations</i>. Review on Antimicrobial Resistance</a>. UK Government (2016).</li>
  <li><a href="http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/rational_use/antibacterial_agents_clinical_development/en/">ANTIBACTERIAL AGENTS IN CLINICAL DEVELOPMENT: An analysis of the antibacterial clinical development pipeline, including tuberculosis</a>. Geneva: World Health Organization.(2017).</li>
  <li><a href="http://projects.thestar.com/antibiotics-resistance-and-the-race-for-new-bacteria/#one"><i>Antibiotic Hunters | Toronto Star</i></a>. Yang, J. (2017).  thestar.com.</li>
  </ul>
  <p>&nbsp;</p>
  <h2>Additional Sources of interest</h2>
  <ul>
  <li><a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.12605/full">Determination of tropical deforestation rates and related carbon losses from 1990 to 2010</a>. Achard, F., Beuchle, R., Mayaux, P., Stibig, H., Bodart, C., Brink, A., Carboni, S., Desclée, B., Donnay, F., Eva, H., Lupi, A., Raši, R., Seliger, R. and Simonetti, D. (2014). Global Change Biology, 20(8), pp.2540-2554. <span id="header-section-doi" class="article-header__meta-info-label">DOI: </span><span class="article-header__meta-info-data">10.1111/gcb.12605</span></li>
  <li><a href="https://ethnobiomed.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1746-4269-3-14">Biodiversity, traditional medicine and public health: where do they meet?</a> Alves, R. and Rosa, I. (2007).  Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 3(1), p.14. <span id="header-section-doi" class="article-header__meta-info-label">DOI: </span><span class="article-header__meta-info-data">10.1111/gcb.12605</span></li>
  <li><a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13880200902988629">Biodiversity conservation and drug discovery: Can they be combined? The Suriname and Madagascar experiences.</a> Cao, S. and Kingston, D. (2009). Pharmaceutical Biology, 47(8), pp.809-823. DOI: <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13880200902988629" rel="nofollow">http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13880200902988629</a></li>
  <li><a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ibsgvalaGOsC&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;source=gbs_ge_summary_r&amp;cad=0#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">Tropical Forest Community Ecology</a>. Carson, W. and Schnitzer, S. (2011). Hoboken: John Wiley &amp; Sons.</li>
  <li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240543/">The Value of Plants Used in Traditional Medicine for Drug Discovery</a>. Fabricant, D. and Farnsworth, N. (2001). Environmental Health Perspectives, 109, p.69. <span class="fm-citation-ids-label">PMCID: </span>PMC1240543</li>
  <li><a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7654372_Medicinal_plants_Traditions_of_yesterday_and_drugs_of_tomorrow">Medicinal plants: Traditions of yesterday and drugs of tomorrow</a>. Gurib-Fakim, A. (2006). Molecular Aspects of Medicine, 27(1), pp.1-93. Doi:10.1016/j.mam.2005.07.008</li>
  <li><a href="https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Deforestation/tropical_deforestation_2001.pdf">Tropical Deforestation</a>. NASA Earth Observatory (2001).</li>
  <li><a href="http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1381416602_Okigbo%20et%20al.pdf">Biodiversity and conservation of medicinal and aromatic plants in Africa.</a> Okigbo, R., Eme, U. and Ogbogu, S. (2008). Biotechnology and Molecular Biology Reviews, 3(6), pp.pp. 127-134. ISSN 1538-2273</li>
  <li><a href="https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=798oDwAAQBAJ&amp;printsec=frontcover&amp;source=gbs_ge_summary_r&amp;cad=0#v=onepage&amp;q&amp;f=false">The thief at the end of the world</a>. Jackson, J. (2009). London: Duckworth.</li>
  <li><a href="http://www.rainforestfoundation.org/commonly-asked-questions-and-facts/"><i>Commonly Asked Questions and Facts | Rainforest Foundation US</i>. </a>Rainforestfoundation.org. (2017).</li>
  <li><a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/226462494_Medicinal_and_aromatic_plants_in_agroforestry_systems">Medicinal and aromatic plants in agroforestry systems</a>. Rao, M., Palada, M. and Becker, B. (2004). Agroforestry Systems, 61-62(1-3), pp.107-122. DOI: 10.1023/B:AGFO.0000028993.83007.4b</li>
  <li><a href="https://stateoftheworldsplants.com/2016/report/sotwp_2016.pdf"><i>State of the World’s Plants</i></a>. Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.</li>
  </ul>

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