Fungus around toe nails can kill bacteria that cause life threatening infections

Scientists have found that the fungus is a source of novel antibiotics which inhibit the growth of bacteria

By Bhavya Khullar
Published: Thursday 26 April 2018

Toenail fungal extract is as effective as chloramaphenicol, an antibiotic that is commercially used for treating bacterial infections of the eye, ear, throat, and blood stream.A fungus that grows around human toenails could be a potential source of new and effective antibiotics, a report published in the journal Reviews in Medical Microbiology has revealed. The fungus, scientifically known as Trichophyton rubrum, was grown in the lab under controlled conditions for 10 days after which its extract, prepared by a standard procedure, yielded a cocktail of compounds that killed Escherichia coli, Streptococcus pyogenes and Pseudomonas aeruginosa – bacteria that cause life threatening infections in humans.

The crude extract of this fungus was found to be a mixture of kojic and fusidic acid, amides and sulfones, which halt the synthesis of proteins in bacteria ultimately inhibiting their growth. The fungus produces these compounds as secondary metabolites – molecules that aid important functions such as protection, competition, and signaling with other species but do not play a direct role in growth, reproduction or survival. Many other species of fungi and higher plants also produce secondary metabolites, which have proven to be sources of antibiotics in the past. In fact, the first discovered antibiotic – penicillin, was also a secondary metabolite produced by the fungus named Penicillium chrysogenum (or P. notatum). Many important antibiotics used in clinical practices today such as streptomycin, neomycin, kanamycin, rifamycin, cephalosporins, nystatin, chloramphenicol and tetracyclines are other examples of metabolites that are derived from naturally occurring organisms.  

Scientists compared the effectiveness of the toenail fungal extract with chloramphenicol, an antibiotic that is commercially used for treating bacterial infections of the eye, ear, throat, and blood stream and found that low doses of the toenail fungal extract were as effective as chloramaphenicol. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the alarming increase in widespread resistance to available antibiotics is becoming a global threat, which highlights the desperate need to develop and search newer antibiotics. “The absence of finding new antibiotics is one of the reasons attributed for the development of antibiotic resistance,” Dr P Sankar and K Ramya, assistant professors at the Veterinary College and Research Institute, Namakkal, Tamil Nadu have noted in their review article published in a recent issue of the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Translational Medicine. And that’s why this new find of antibiotics from a toenail fungus is an important one.

The research team who found the new antibiotic cocktail consists of Adnan H. Aubaid, Haider Al-Shawi and Nawfal H. Al-Dujaili at the Medicine College of the University of Al-Qadisiyah, Diwaniya Technical Institute of the Al-Furat Al-awsat Technical University, and the Department of Biotechnology of the Al-Kufa University in Iraq.

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