A microorganism that could kill deadly infections and even anthrax was found in the sands of Santa Barbara County’s own Gaviota State Beach.

UC San Diego researchers discovered a previously unidentified species of bacteria that produces an antibiotic now known as anthracimycin. Initial testing indicates that anthracimycin could be capable of curing deadly anthrax infections and potentially fatal MRSA (methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus) infections, which yielded a higher human death toll in 2007 than HIV/AIDS infections, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

William Fenical, director of the UCSD Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine, said that although anthracimycin is related to the common antibiotic streptomycin, it is structurally and chemically different and had not been previously discovered. He explained, “It belongs to a common group, but there was no evidence that it was discovered in the past.”

The microorganism was found at Gaviota State Beach by Chris Kauffman, a researcher at the UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and was tested by Fenical’s research team at the Scripps Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine and San Diego-based company Trius Therapeutics.

So far, the infection-treating abilities of anthracimycin seem promising, as the antibiotic was 25 to 40 times more effective than common antiobiotics when treating anthrax and MRSA infections, which Fenical said are deadly and particularly difficult to treat. “It’s a highly drug-resistant infection that humans get, and it can be fatal,” Fenical said. “We found that this antibiotic, in an animal model, is effective at curing this infection.”

During testing, 90 percent of MRSA-infected mice were successfully cured with anthracimycin, and Fenical said such a high rate of success in animal testing is “extremely indicative” that the antibiotic would also cure human diseases at such a rate.

Due to the biologically unique nature of the newly found microorganism, researchers say there is potential for new drugs to be developed using anthracimycin and its unforeseen treatment abilities.

Results of this study were published earlier this month in an issue of the German academic journal Angewandte Chemie.


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