New antibiotics produced from marine bacteria found in Norwegian
27 February 2009
Norwegian scientists have produced completely new antibiotics from
bacteria found in the sea around Norway. Eleven species of bacteria that
create substances that kill cancerous cells and three other bacteria
that produce new antibiotics were discovered by scientists from the
Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU — Norges
teknisk-naturvitenskapelige universitet) and the independent research
organisation SINTEF in collaboration with research groups in Moscow and
the University of Bergen.
This is the first time that Norwegian scientists have carried out the
entire process from gathering bacteria from the fjords to presenting
completely new interesting substances in bottles.
Behind their success lies a long and painstaking process of
screening, cultivation, isolation and testing. However, it will still
take some time before they can be sure that the process will continue to
the phases of commercialisation and medicine production.
Professor Sergey Zotchev of NTNU and senior
scientist Håvard Sletta
of SINTEF examine bacterial cultures
The NTNU and SINTEF researchers have been bioprospecting for five or
six years, searching for interesting substances that are produced by
marine bacteria. The wide range of expertise of this research group
makes it unique, as it brings together competence in physiology and
genetics, and has access to modern screening and fermentation
The pace of the process has risen during the past few months, since
the recruitment of Professor Stein Ove Døskeland’s group at the
University of Bergen, one of the best groups around in this field. The
scientists have also had bacterial fractions tested in Russia.
Ninety percent are of no interest
Many of the bacteria that have been brought up from the Trondheim
Fjord have antibiotic functions, but most of these are already known,
and are therefore of no interest. The researchers were looking for new
compounds that can be patented.
“Substances with a new chemical structure and, we hope, with a
different mechanism of action than we already know of, could be
extremely valuable, for example in fighting cancer. This is why we need
more candidate structures. Not all of them can be developed into new
medicines, but if we are successful with one or two of them, we will be
quite happy,” says NTNU professor Sergey Zotchev.
Recent focus on a few selected bacteria has led to these exciting
findings. In Bergen and Moscow, the 11 anti-cancer substances have been
tested against leukemias and stomach, colon and prostate cancers.
“We have found that cancerous cells have been killed, while normal
cells survive, and that individual extracts act on different types of
cancer cells,” says senior scientist Håvard Sletta of SINTEF. “However,
we still have not identified the active substances in the compounds
produced by the bacteria”.
Much work still to be done
Meticulous laboratory experiments have enable the scientists to
identify the chemical structure of one of the three substances that can
be used as antibiotics, and which they now know act against
multiresistant bacteria. Towards the end of January, this substance was
due to be tested on animals in Moscow. If the results turn out to be
positive, the way will be clear for a patent application.
“If it turns out that this substance does not work in animals, the
worst that can happen is that there will be a pause in our efforts.
However, in many cases, all that is needed to take us further is a
chemical modification of the molecule, but that requires a lot of work,
and we could be stopped for lack on funding,” says Sergey Zotchev.
“We need to remember that bacteria from the sea produce antibiotics
in order to deal with their own natural competitors, rather than to act
against infections in the human body”.
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