Dirty work for drug makers: wastewater can be used for antibiotics development, says researcher

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Antibiotic resistance

A researcher at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University (SU) says biosurfactants made by bugs in municipal wastewater could help drug makers develop new antibiotics.

Thando Ndlovu told in-PharmaTechnologist his research focused on a wastewater site, where microorganisms produce antimicrobial agents.

 “Manufacturing companies could benefit from my research, by considering wastewater as the site to isolate bacteria that could produce different types of antimicrobial agents,” ​said Ndlovu.

“These antimicrobial agents could be used for the manufacturing of new or alternative antimicrobial agents,” ​he told us.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) crisis

Ndlovus said the spread of antimicrobial resistant bacteria was a primary factor in his search for antimicrobial compounds.

“Certain bacteria in municipal wastewater produce antimicrobial compounds or biosurfactants ​[compounds produced naturally by bacteria] that can help prevent the growth of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms which cause serious infections in humans,” ​said Ndlovu.

According to the researcher, these antimicrobial compounds could be more effective than synthesised new antibiotics.

“Chemically synthesised antibiotics could easily be produced in large amounts, but it’s a concern when they are not going to be of maximum use due to antibiotic resistant bacteria causing various infections.”

 “If microbial strains are found which naturally produce these compounds in high quantities, this will reduce the increase in antimicrobial resistance, as naturally produced compounds could be easily degraded,” ​he said.


As part of Ndlovu’s research, he isolated two bacterial strains whose biosurfactants produced effective results against antibiotic-resistant disease-causing bacteria.

“The biosurfactants produced by the two bacteria in my study prevented the growth of major disease-causing bacteria such as methicillin-resistant ​Staphylococcus aureus and gentamicin-resistant ​E. coli which can lead to life-threating infections in humans,” ​said Ndlovu.

“These bacteria also have the ability to outcompete other bacteria in the same environment because the biosurfactant compounds help them to absorb nutrients and to protect them from toxic materials,” ​he said.

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