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USF scientists discover extract that could battle MRSA

An extract from this sponge contains a chemical that has eliminated more than 98 percent of MRSA cells in lab tests.
An extract from this sponge contains a chemical that has eliminated more than 98 percent of MRSA cells in lab tests.
Published May 25, 2016

Extracts from an Antarctic sponge could be the key to combating the dangerous bacterial infection methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, scientists from the University of South Florida have found.

The scientists found the extract, called Dendrilla membranosa, contains a chemical that has eliminated more than 98 percent of MRSA cells in laboratory tests. The scientists named the chemical "darwinolide."

"In recent years, MRSA has become resistant to vancomycin and threatens to take away our most valuable treatment option against staph infections," said study co-author and USF microbiologist Dr. Lindsey N. Shaw, in a release.

The infection, found in high-traffic places such as hospitals, nursing homes, and gyms, has adapted faster than new antibiotics to combat it, the researchers said.

MRSA can cause infections throughout the body and forms a "biofilm" that is resistant to many forms of treatment.

"We desperately need new antibiofilm agents to treat drug resistant bacterial infections like MRSA," Shaw said.

USF chemistry professor Bill Baker, director of the USF Center for Drug Discovery and Innovation, studies chemical ecology in Antarctica and collected the sponges to test their natural substances for potential pharmaceutical uses.

When the researchers tested darwinolide against MRSA, only 1.6 percent of the bacterium survived.

In the United States, there are an estimated 2 million cases of MRSA infections annually, which results in at least 100,000 deaths, according to the researchers. Bacterial disease is the second-leading cause of death globally, particularly among children and the elderly, the researchers said.

The researchers' findings were published this month in the American Chemical Society journal Organic Letters.

Contact Anastasia Dawson at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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