A natural antibiotic created from human sweat could fend off deadly strains of tuberculosis and other dangerous superbugs, researchers claim.
Dermcidin is produced by our skin when we sweat, and it fights off germs when skin is injured by a cut, scratch or bug bite.
Scientists have uncovered the atomic structure of the compound, enabling them to pinpoint for the first time what makes dermcidin such an efficient weapon in the battle against dangerous bugs.
“Antibiotics are not only available on prescription. Our own bodies produce efficient substances to fend off bacteria, fungi and viruses,” researcher Ulrich Zachariae of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics, said. “Now that we know in detail how these natural antibiotics work, we can use this to help develop infection-fighting drugs that are more effective than conventional antibiotics,” he said.
Although about 1700 types of these natural antibiotics are known to exist, scientists did not have a detailed understanding of how they work, according to the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. These natural substances, known as antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), are more effective in the long term than traditional antibiotics, because germs are not capable of quickly developing resistance against them.
The antimicrobials can attack the bugs’ Achilles heel - their cell wall, which cannot be modified quickly to resist attack. Because of this, AMPs have great potential to form a new generation of antibiotics.
Scientists have known for some time that dermcidin is activated in salty, slightly acidic sweat. The molecule then forms tiny channels perforating the cell membrane of bugs, which are stabilised by charged particles of zinc present in sweat.
As a consequence, water and charged particles flow uncontrollably across the membrane, eventually killing the harmful microbes. Through a combination of techniques, scientists were able to determine the atomic structure of the molecular channel.