As antibiotic resistance continues to make headlines, researchers are ramping up their search for ways to turn the tide. A recent study focuses on fish slime.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance is "one of the biggest public health challenges of our time."
Each year in the United States, an estimated 2 million people contract an antibiotic-resistant infection.
Of these people, at least 23,000 die. Medical researchers urgently need to address this significant and growing issue.
Scientists are digging into the hidden corners of the planet in the hope of finding new and unusual organisms that might help defeat this foe.
For instance, researchers recently found a new species of bacteria in a soil sample from Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom.
According to Paul Dyson, one of the co-authors of the resulting paper, this bacterium "is effective against four of the top six pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics."
Other scientists have delved into the dark underworld of Canada's cave systems to examine biofilms for their potential use against antibiotic-resistant pathogens.
Researchers from Oregon State University in Corvallis and California State University in Fullerton led the most recent foray into unexplored reservoirs of bacteria, concentrating their attention on the protective slime, or mucus, that coats fish.
This gloopy coating is of great use to fish because it traps and destroys pathogens in the environment, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. The slime contains novel polysaccharides and peptides, some of which have antibacterial activity.
One of the researchers, Molly Austin, explains that fish mucus is particularly interesting because fish are in constant contact with a complex environment that is dense with potential microbial enemies.
As the authors write, "fish cohabitate with a multitude of bacteria and viruses but often resist deadly infections." It is worth finding out whether fish's protective mechanisms might also protect humans.
The marine environment remains relatively unstudied, according to the principal investigator Sandra Loesgen, Ph.D., "For us, any microbe in the marine environment that could provide a new compound is worth exploring."
Erin (Misty) Paig-Tran, Ph.D., who is from California State University, supplied the scientists with fish mucus from both bottom-dwelling and surface-dwelling fish off the coast of California.
The team chose to focus on younger fish because they tend to have thicker mucus layers. The extra mucus is necessary because their immune systems are relatively undeveloped, which means that they need additional protection.