Researchers from Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine are part of an international team that has discovered a new broad-spectrum antibiotic that contains arsenic. The study, published in Nature’s Communication Biology, is a collaboration between Barry P. Rosen, Masafumi Yoshinaga, Venkadesh Sarkarai Nadar and others from the Department of Cellular Biology and Pharmacology, and Satoru Ishikawa and Masato Kuramata from the Institute for Agro-Environmental Sciences, NARO in Japan.
Antibiotic resistance has been called one of the biggest public health threats of our time. There is a pressing need for new and novel antibiotics to combat the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria worldwide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 2
million people in the United States are infected with drug-resistant
bacteria every year, killing more than 23,000. The World Health
Organization (WHO) has warned that “a growing number of infections –
such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhea, and salmonellosis – are
becoming harder to treat as the antibiotics used to treat them become
less effective.” WHO recently released a global priority list of
antibiotic-resistant pathogens that pose the greatest threat to human
“We are running out of tools to fight these diseases. We
need a new potent antibiotic to solve this problem,” says Yoshinaga, the
other co-senior author. “We showed that this new novel arsenic compound
can be a potent antibiotic.”
The new antiobiotic:
Chemical structure of Arsinothricin
“The antibiotic, arsinothricin or AST, is a natural product made by soil bacteria and is effective against many types of bacteria, which is what broad-spectrum means,” says Rosen, co-senior author of the study published in the Nature journal, Communications Biology. “Arsinothricin is the first and only known natural arsenic-containing antibiotic, and we have great hopes for it.”
Although it contains arsenic, researchers say they tested AST toxicity on human blood cells and reported that “it doesn’t kill human cells in tissue culture.”
“People get scared when they hear the word arsenic because it can be a toxin and carcinogen, but the use of arsenicals as antimicrobials and anti-cancer agents is well established,” says Rosen. In 1908, Paul Erlich won the Nobel Prize in medicine after finding an arsenic-based cure for syphilis. Arsenicals are still used to treat tropical diseases, preventing infectious diseases in poultry, and as a chemotherapeutic treatment for leukemia.
The group of scientists has tested the new antibiotic and found it to be “very effective” against some of the most notorious bacteria affecting public health, including E. coli, which can cause severe intestinal infections, and the “last resort antibiotic” carbapenem-resistant Enterobacter cloacae, the culprit of increasing infections in neonatal and intensive care units, and one of the WHO-designated priority pathogens. It also worked against Mycobacterium bovis, which causes tuberculosis in cattle. This suggests the potential for treating human tuberculosis. Further testing will be necessary to determine the antibiotic’s effectiveness and toxicity in animals and humans.
The team is now in the process of patenting its discovery and hopes to work with the pharmaceutical industry to develop the compound into a drug—a long and expensive process that could easily take 10 years. Success is not guaranteed, but the work of these scientists remains extremely important.
“More than 90 percent of potential drugs fail in clinical trials,” says Rosen. “But if you don’t bring new drugs into the pipeline, you won’t find the ones that work.”
Source: This article has been republished from materials provided by Florida International University. Note: material may have been edited for length and content.
The cited study:
Venkadesh Sarkarai Nadar, Jian Chen, Dharmendra S. Dheeman, Ariana Emilce Galván, Kunie Yoshinaga-Sakurai, Palani Kandavelu, Banumathi Sankaran, Masato Kuramata, Satoru Ishikawa, Barry P. Rosen, Masafumi Yoshinaga, Arsinothricin, an arsenic-containing non-proteinogenic amino acid analog of glutamate, is a broad-spectrum antibiotic
. Nature Communications Biology, 2 (2019) 131. DOI: 10.1038/s42003-019-0365-y
Used techniques and instrumentation:
Related studies (newest first):
Masato Kuramata, Futa Sakakibara, Ryota Kataoka, Kenichi Yamazaki, Koji Baba, Masumi Ishizaka, Syuntaro Hiradate, Tsunashi Kamo, Satoru Ishikawa, Arsinothricin, a novel organoarsenic species produced by a rice rhizosphere bacterium
, Environ. Chem., 13/4 (2016) 723-731. DOI: 10.1071/EN14247
April 16, 2016: Arsenic-Containing Phosphatidylcholines Discovered in Herring Caviar July 15, 2013: New arsenic compounds found in herring August 8, 2008: Arsenolipids in Fish Oil by Arsenic Speciation Analysis July 18, 2008: Experts detail how rice absorbs arsenic from the soil March 15, 2008: Arsenic in rice milk exceeds EU and US drinking water standards
February 15, 2008: Arsenic speciation in rice: a question of the rice plant species January 31, 2008:
New arsenic species detected in carrot samples March 7, 2007: Elevated Arsenic Levels Found In Rice Grown In South Central States of the USA September 7, 2006: Toxic inorganic arsenic species found in Japanese seaweed food October 6, 2005: Two new Thio-Arsenosugars found in Scallops August 3, 2005: Surprisingly high concentrations of toxic arsenic species found in U.S. rice
May 15, 2005: Use of organoarsenicals as pesticides may lead to
contamination of soils and groundwater with toxic arsenic species
last time modified: April 23, 2019