A study published in Communication Biology details the discovery by an international team of scientists of a new broad-spectrum antibiotic containing arsenic.
Arsinothricin (AST) is a natural product produced by soil bacteria that is effective against many types of bacteria. It’s the first and only known natural antibiotic that contains arsenic, and the researchers are optimistic about it.
Although arsenic can be a toxin and carcinogen, the use of arsenicals as antimicrobials and anti-cancer agents is well established, say the researchers. Arsenicals are used to treat tropical diseases, to prevent infectious diseases in poultry, and as a chemotherapeutic treatment for leukemia.
In the U.S., around two million cases of infection from drug-resistant bacteria occur annually, and more than 23,000 are fatal. The World Health Organization warns that pneumonia, TB, gonorrhea, and salmonellosis are harder to treat because antibiotics have become less effective.
In tests, the scientists found the new antibiotic to be “very effective” against some of the most notorious bacteria including E. coli, and Enterobacter cloacae, responsible for increased infections on neonatal and intensive care units. The antibiotic was also successful against Mycobacterium bovis, which causes tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, indicating its potential for treating human TB. Caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, TB is the world’s main infectious disease killer and has become even more difficult to treat as a result of antibiotic resistance.
The team is currently patenting its discovery and hopes eventually to develop the compound into a drug.