Student researcher in the Department of Microbiology at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, Kevhvan Graham, has made a first step towards identifying antibiotics that could help lessen the stress of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The Master of Philosophy student undertook a study to isolate novel antibiotic compounds from a popular soil bacteria.
His presentation of the findings won him the prize for the Most Impactful Oral Presentation at the 11th staging of the National Health Research Conference in November 2020.
Mr. Graham explained that many of the antibiotics that are used in hospitals and clinics today are found in a popular soil bacterium, called the actinobacteria.
“It predominates the soil; it lives in there. It actively breaks down organic matter like leaves and other animal parts to produce its own nutrients,” he pointed out.
“When it does that in the soil, it creates competition. It creates its own food in the soil and surrounding microorganisms are going to want to invade on their food, so [the bacteria] produce toxic chemicals to ward off these invaders,” he added.
Mr. Graham further explained that scientists have found that these toxic chemicals that they produce possess antibacterial properties.
The researcher said that in order to undertake the study, 25 soil samples from five different locations in Jamaica were sourced from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the characteristics of the soil, such as acidity and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) classification, were ascertained.
“We then sourced the pathogenic bacteria from the University Hospital of the West Indies and some (for the food spoilage pathogens) were sourced from the Bureau of Standards, Jamaica,” he added.
He said that the relevant tests were done to grow the bacteria, extract their deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), identify them then administer Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests to amplify the DNA into millions of copies, so that there would be enough for other tests.
DNA sequencing was then done to determine the bacterial name and species.
“We are required to find the bacterial names, find the ones that are very active against the harmful bacteria, then compile the most diverse and active ones,” Mr. Graham said.
“The ultimate aim is to find at least one or two antibiotics that could help lessen the stress of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, although the hunting for the antibiotics actually happens at a higher (Doctor of Philosophy) level,” he noted.
Mr. Graham explained that the reason for the study was to try to find solutions to the growing concern of antibiotic resistance due to misuse on the part of both patient and healthcare provider.
This has led to an increase in the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Another reason for doing the study, he said, is a projected increase in deaths from antibiotic-resistant bacteria by 2050.
“As scientists, we want to find novel compounds to limit and suppress this prevalence of morbidity,” he explained.
The conclusion for the study indicated that the overall examination of the isolates of actinobacteria screened from Jamaica displayed promising results with regard to the potential of isolating antimicrobial agents.
The research is significant because it can lead to the discovery of novel antimicrobial compounds that could assist in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.