People often get squeamish at the thought of maggots, but researchers in Britain say the larva often found in decaying matter could hopefully be used to fight off antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
“We are quite in a desperate state at the moment. The world is really running out of antibiotics because of the evolution of resistance,” Dr. Yamni Nigam, the lead researcher at Swansea University told Global News.
The problem is, maggots are often associated with corpses, feces and death, Nigam said. “It’s the culture of disgust.”
But what Nigam and her team have reportedly found is that within maggot secretion, there is a tiny antibiotic powerful enough to help combat so-called superbugs like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), each year 700,000 people die as a result of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. “Superbugs” is a term used to describe strains of bacteria that are resistant to the majority of antibiotics commonly used today.
It’s anticipated that, by 2050, a staggering 10 million people will have died at the hands of these bacteria.
WATCH BELOW: Video shows how bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics
“There is something in the maggot secretions which is playing a really important role in stopping those bacteria from replicating,” Nigam said.
Maggots, which thrive on dead flesh, have the ability to clean up infected wounds. In this process, the larva leave a layer of secretion. Within that secretion there is a molecule discovered by Nigam and her team called Seraticin, which has now been trademarked.
It’s this molecule that holds the key for viable new medicines, Nigam said.
To get that molecule, several hundred clean maggots are placed in a container of sterile water and left overnight. When the maggots are filtered out from the water the following day, the resulting liquid holds the molecules they’re after, Nigam said.
“Within those collections, which are quite dark brown in colour, there is a very active tiny antibiotic. Then we go into the process of filtering that out.”
Nigam added that her lab is now in the process of signing a contract with a leading British university, to take the research to the next level. Their goal is to replicate that molecule found in maggots so it can be used in medicine.
— With files from Nicole Mortillaro, Global News and Thomson Reuters.