Antarctic lichens: A new window to address multidrug-resistant bacteria

Antarctic lichens: A new window to address multidrug-resistant bacteria

The different territories of our country hide great scientific mysteries. Lagoons, deserts and glaciers are some of the environments that could be safeguarding the lives of plants, animals and microorganisms capable of, for example, slowing down the onset of diseases such as cancer.

In this sense, science plays a fundamental role, as it allows us to discover the properties of certain organisms that develop in very hostile environments and that have developed characteristics that allow them to survive in them. Scientific research is essential to what Chile will be of the future, as it could change aspects ranging from public health to productive matter.

An example of this search for new properties of living organisms is that carried out by Dr. Angélica Casanova-Katny, researcher at the Catholic University of Temuco, and who, through her studies in climate change, came to research in algae and fungal ecophysiology, where she became interested in an organism born among the symbiosis of both : lichen.

"Together with Dr. Gerardo González Rocha, of the University of Concepción, we began the first surveys of which molecules of lichens might have biological activity, managing previous history where it was evident that they generally produce more than 700 molecules, many of them bioactive. This means that they possess a high rate of molecules with antioxidant or uv-protective properties that could be anticancer. Lichens also synthesize molecules that inhibit the growth of bacteria.

Under this scenario, and focusing her efforts on understanding the molecules that inhibit the development of bacteria, Dr. Casanova, became interested in the lichens of Antarctica. Territory where they dominate the terrestrial biota with more than 300 species in question. "We chose this area because we thought that Antarctic lichens should have extreme capabilities, those that are related to the production of interesting secondary metabolites, that facilitate adaptation here, and that they are also synthesized not only against abiotic factors, but also, to defend themselves from competitors in a resource-constrained polar ecosystem. Among them are uric acid," explains Dr Casanova.

Uric acid is a very potent molecule that has several antioxidant activities. The interesting thing about her applicability in Dr. Casanova's research is that her action is being tested on multi-resistant bacteria from Chilean hospitals, such as Staphylococcus aureus. "We tested it with this strain and it generates a decrease in the development of this bacterium. This is very important, since today there are many bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics, especially those that inhabit intrahospital spaces, so they attack immunocompromised people, who are made even more difficult to treat, which results in the cost of disease being very high. On the other hand, we first found in an Antarctic species, a molecule called Atranol, which was obtained in an endemic lichen, the ""Himantormia lugubris".

In this sense, looking for new bioactive molecules, that help counterattack other microorganisms, or that have potential use as an anticancer or as sunscreen, to name a few examples, is so relevant. Since it makes us realize that a myriad of molecules can be found in nature that exceed the human imagination, and knowing them opens up possibilities for artificially synthesizing them," he explains.

Under this logic, the professional adds: "The idea is to obtain and know this variability of molecules, to use them as a basis to generate new ones, since today we no longer use the paradigm of exploiting the natural resource, but to know and preserve it. To the extent that we know that lichens provide us with active molecules, we have more reason to contribute to ecosystem conservation, thinking that in Chile more than 1400 species of lichens have been described, and that there is practically no research on them, except what researchers from the dr. Wanda Quilhot group have done in Valparaiso. I mean, as scientists we're right with lichens."

On the other hand, and in relation to the serious problem of multi-resistant bacteria, Dr Casanova-Katny says, "The serious problem in today's society is that antibiotics have been used for decades for viral colds. In that sense, I believe that the perspective should change and that is part of informing the community on the subject. There must be a cultural change in which the specificity of antibiotics is emphasized. because while there is research like ours, which aims to contribute to the generation of new drugs with new molecules, we know that this is a long-breathing process, so for now we must try to curb resistance with responsible use of antibiotics," he concludes.

Source: 4ID/CONGRESS, All rights reserved. ®
Journalist:Patricio Grunert Alarcón. ®

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Quote as source a: 4ID-CONGRESS® /Patricio Grunert Alarcón, All rights reserved. ®