Old substance in a new guise

Angewandte Chemie International Edition reports promising compound - discovered at Jena's Hans Knöll Institute

Martin Baunach and Ling Ding from HKI look at a culture dish with the host bacteria that produce the new active substances. (Photo: Tina Kunath)

Ling Ding and Martin Baunach (Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology – Hans Knöll Institute) discovered very promising new active substances in their research on bacteria from mangrove plants: They are active against antibiotic-resistant germs, without human damaging cells. But they are not entirely unknown. Already 100 years ago likely compounds were discovered, so-called sulfonamides, produced synthetically.

While most antibiotics are derived from bacteria and fungi sulfonamides occur in test tubes and were never found in nature. That is why the scientists from HKI were surprised to discover similar compounds in bacteria that naturally live in mangrove plants. "Parts of the active compounds which we have found, have striking resemblance to the old connections from the beginning of the 20th century," says Martin Baunach from the department of Biomolecular Chemistry. "If take a look at the exact structure, it can be seen that they differ in one important section for the effect. Accordingly, the nature does not seem to use the same mechanisms that make the synthetic substances such effective antibiotics. Rather, it is very likely to be a novel mechanism of action."