BBC Earth (Asia) - - Update -

It looks like hu­mans may have an un­likely ally in the fight against an­tibac­te­rial re­sis­tance: ants. Re­searchers at North Carolina State Univer­sity have found that some species of ant pos­sess pow­er­ful an­timi­cro­bial agents that pro­tect them from dis­ease.

The find­ing could lead to the de­vel­op­ment of pow­er­ful new an­tibi­otics to re­place the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of medicines that are be­com­ing less ef­fec­tive as mi­crobes evolve re­sis­tance.

The team re­moved the con­coc­tion of chem­i­cals that coats the ants’ bod­ies and in­tro­duced this to a slurry of bac­te­ria. They then com­pared the growth of the bac­te­ria in the slurry to bac­te­ria in a con­trol group.

Of the 20 species tested, 12 had some sort of an­timi­cro­bial agent on their ex­oskele­tons. “One species we looked at, the thief ant (Solenop­sis mo­lesta), had the most pow­er­ful an­tibi­otic ef­fect of any species we tested – and un­til now, no one had even shown that they made use of an­timi­cro­bials,” said Dr Adrian Smith, who co-au­thored the pa­per. “Find­ing a species that car­ries a pow­er­ful an­timi­cro­bial agent is good news for those in­ter­ested in find­ing new an­tibi­otic agents that can help hu­mans.”

The re­searchers re­main op­ti­mistic, but state that fur­ther tests need to be car­ried out. “Next steps in­clude test­ing ant species against other bac­te­ria, de­ter­min­ing what sub­stances are pro­duc­ing the an­tibi­otic ef­fects – and whether ants pro­duce them or ob­tain them else­where, and ex­plor­ing what al­ter­na­tive strate­gies ants use to de­fend against bac­te­rial pathogens,” said Smith.

Cer­tain ant species have pow­er­ful an­tibi­otics on their bod­ies

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