‘Nature makes penicillin; I just found it’ – so said the Scottish bacteriologist and physician, Alexander Fleming, who, in 1945, won the Nobel Prize in medicine for his discovery of the first antibiotic – penicillin.
For decades antibiotics were the most effective method of combating bacterial infections and the first cases of resistance were not a concern, as new drugs were winning the battle against antibiotic resistance of microorganisms.
However, at the end of the twentieth century, the problem of antibiotic resistance began to grow with great force. As a consequence, we began to run out of treatment options due to the growing disproportion between the rate of the formation and spread of resistance mechanisms, and the introduction of new antimicrobial drugs. So do we have our backs against the wall?
Not necessarily. Although research groups all around the world are working to combat antibiotic resistance, there are still numerous roadblocks on the way. So maybe we should stop looking at antibiotics as the only way to treat bacterial infections? Let’s just look deeper into nature which copes so perfectly without synthetic or semi-synthetic antibiotics.
Microorganisms are capable of antagonistic interactions between each other. Thanks to these interactions, penicillin was the first to be discovered and it led to numerous discoveries of antimicrobial agents including bacteriocins.
Bacteriocins are antibacterial protein substances produced and excreted out of the cell by many microorganisms. They have bactericidal or bacteriostatic action on susceptible strains of bacteria. Bacteriocins are a group of compounds with different biochemical activities, molecular weight, mechanism of action, spectrum of activity and the location and sequence of the gene encoding their active protein. At the beginning they were considered as substances which bactericidal action against microorganisms was related to the manufacturer of a particular bacteriocin. Closer characterization of multiple bacteriocins also revealed antimicrobial activity against microorganisms belonging to other than the manufacturer species, including pathogenic organisms.
I studied the influence of bacteriocins, on bacteria isolated from skin lesions of patients with mild or moderate severity of acne vulgaris. Acne vulgaris is one of the most common skin diseases that affects people of all ages: it is affecting up to 15% of the population. Antibiotics were and still are the most common means of treatment acne.
Antibiotic use leads to resistance. Changes in resistance to antibiotics of Propionibacterium acnes bacteria, which are mainly responsible for acne vulgaris, were not observed until the 1980s. However, since then their resistance to antibiotics raised from 20% to 62% in 1996 and has been constantly increasing. This shows a need for a treatment strategy to minimize the use of antibiotics in therapy of acne.
The key to success is in nature. My studies have shown that the tested strains of lactic acid bacteria inhibit the growth of Propionibacterium acnes. Hopefully, further research will enable to answer the question whether the bacteriocins and this treatment strategy can outperform antibiotics?
About the Author
Zofia Kolodziejczyk: I am a fourth year student of Biotechnology engineering studies at the University of Agriculture in Cracow and the University of Applied Sciences in Zurich, Switzerland, where I received the Swiss-European Mobility Programme (SEMP) scholarship. Therefore, I spent the last two years developing my science as well as language skills. Outside the university, I am conducting research, regarding the activity of bacteriocins, in the Research Centre for Microbiology and Auto Vaccines. Also, I actively support popularization of science, therefore I started cooperation with the Jagiellonian Centre of Innovation which resulted in an article. I am engrossed in microbiology and increasing public understanding of science.