New (old) antibiotic (re-)discovered

I saw this when it first came out, but unfortunately I didn’t give it a second thought. Details, unfortunately are scarce, but it’s good news nonetheless. The NYT has more on the fun backstory of the plant-based remedy:

In some ways, it is a wonder that the work survived at all. In 1670, at the age of 42, Rumphius went blind. In 1687, his still unpublished manuscript and all of his illustrations were destroyed in a fire that swept through the European quarter of Ambon. Undaunted, he dictated a new version and commissioned artists to draw new illustrations.

Fortunately, the second time around he kept a copy of the manuscript. The original was lost when the ship carrying it back to the Netherlands was sunk by a French naval squadron. Still unfazed, Rumphius continued his work, finishing the last volume shortly before his death in 1702.

The extract shows some efficacy against E. coli and MRSA. It was used in ancient times as a remedy for dysentery.

The seeds of the tree, Rumphius wrote, “will halt all kinds of diarrhea, but very suddenly, forcefully and powerfully, so that one should use them with care in dysentery cases, because that illness or affliction should not be halted too quickly: and some considered this medicament a great secret, and relied on it completely.”

Very cool story. I just wish researchers knew more about the active compound itself, and whether it is related to any other antibiotics on the market. I could see it being entirely new or being related to a current antibiotic: it could be from the seeds themselves, which would indicate that it’s entirely new, or it could be from a fungus growing inside the seed (think a moldy peach pit), in which case it could be related to current antibiotics. I guess we’ll have to wait and see — I don’t have access to the BMJ, so any details about the extract itself are hidden from me, if they are even known. Alas.

Geographic isolation can make for some very interesting evolutionary developments. It would be really cool if this was completely new.

[tags]Medicine, MRSA, pharmacy, antibiotics, MDROs, drug discovery, botany[/tags]

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