The substance in SUGAR that eliminates superbugs is dubbed “the most promising antibiotic candidate in decades”

Revenge is sweet: Experts hope toxin found in sugarcane will reverse the tide of drug-resistant superbugs – calling it ‘the most promising antibiotic in decades’

  • Albicidin is an antibiotic made by a pathogenic pathogen in the leaves of sugar cane
  • Scientists have found that the molecule blocks infection by changing its shape
  • New tests show it’s effective against salmonella, E. coli and pneumonia

A toxin found in sugar that eliminates superbugs has been dubbed the “most exciting antibiotic candidate” for decades.

Albicidin is a toxin produced by the plant pathogen that causes the devastating leaf scald disease of sugarcane. Researchers found albicidin was effective against six antibiotic-resistant bacteria in a new lab study.

Scientists hope this will give them a new weapon to fight superbugs, which are estimated to contribute to around seven million deaths a year. Experts have warned they should be taken as seriously as global warming.

The antibiotic - called albicidin - is made by the plant pathogen that causes the devastating sugarcane leaf scald disease, a bacterial disease that can ruin crops

The antibiotic – called albicidin – is made by the plant pathogen that causes the devastating sugarcane leaf scald disease, a bacterial disease that can ruin crops

Dr Dmitry Ghilarov, head of the research group examining albicidin at the John Innes Center in Norwich, UK, said: “We believe this is one of the most exciting new antibiotic candidates since many years.

“It has extremely high efficacy at small concentrations and is very potent against pathogenic bacteria – even those resistant to widely used antibiotics.”

Albicidin is used by the pathogen Xanthomonas albilineans to spread throughout the plant, withering leaves and rendering crops unusable.

The development of albicidin as an antibiotic was slow because scientists could not determine exactly how it engaged with its target in plants – the bacterial enzyme DNA gyrase.

Albicidin prevents a process that allows cells to function properly.

Gyrase, a bacterial enzyme, binds to DNA and twists it into a coil in a process called supercoiling, which is crucial for cell function.

During supercoiling, the DNA is temporarily broken.

Albicidin prevents reintegration of DNA by changing shape and effectively blocking the passage.

Now that scientists have this additional structural understanding of how albicidin works, they hope to use it to modify the antibiotic and make it more effective against drug-resistant bacteria.

In the latest study, scientists used a powerful microscope to discover that albicidin takes on an L-shape, preventing gyrase from rejoining broken DNA, like “a key thrown between two gears”.

The way albicidin interacts is different enough from existing antibiotics that it will likely work against many current antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Through lab tests, scientists have found it to be effective against some of the most dangerous bacterial infections often contracted in hospitals, including salmonella, E. coli and pneumonia.

These three antibiotic-resistant insects are estimated to kill more than 50,000 Americans each year.

When antibiotics are taken unnecessarily, bacteria can develop the ability to defeat them and gradually become resistant to the drugs.

Dr Ghilarov said: ‘It seems that by the nature of the interaction, albicidin targets a really essential part of the enzyme and it is difficult for bacteria to develop resistance to that.

“Now that we have a structural understanding, we can seek to further exploit this binding pocket and make more modifications to albicidin to improve its efficacy and pharmacological properties.”

Now researchers will seek funding for human clinical trials, which they hope will lead to the creation of a new class of antibiotics.

The results were published in the journal Nature Catalysis.

Figures estimate that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to the once harmless insects.

Around 700,000 people already die every year from drug-resistant infections, including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria worldwide.

Concerns have repeatedly been expressed that medicine will be pushed back into the “dark ages” if antibiotics become ineffective in the coming years.

In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, only one or two new antibiotics have been developed in the past 30 years.

In 2019, the WHO warned that antibiotics were “running out” as a report revealed a “serious shortage” of new drugs being developed.

Without antibiotics, C-sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements will become incredibly “risky”, it was said at the time.


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