Magic mushrooms: Siouxsie Wiles hunts for antibiotics in mushrooms

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What wonders are hidden in Aotearoa mushrooms? Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles finds out, as she and her team research new antibiotics to prevent deadly diseases.

Dr Wiles and his colleagues dug through a treasure trove of more than 10,000 fungal cultures collected from plants and soils in New Zealand and the South Pacific.

They are looking for antibiotics to kill mycobacteria, which can cause deadly diseases, including tuberculosis. Diseases increasingly resistant to today’s antibiotics are a global problem.

In the latest work of scientists, they estimated that a handful of fungi, including Lophodermium culmigenum, a plant decay fungus, and Trametes coccinea, a wood rot fungus, as meriting further investigation.

This was after analyzing 36 mushroom cultures.

The incredible treasure is called the International Collection of Plant Microorganisms (ICMP) and is held by the Crown Research Institute Manaaki Whenua.

Over the decades, people have collected samples from all the northern and southern islands and as far as the Chatham Islands, often from fungi growing on rotten wood or fallen leaves.

However, the collection has never been rigorously tested for antimicrobial activity against mycobacterial species, say Dr Wiles and colleagues, in the article just published in Frontiers of microbiology.

This makes it “an excellent and untapped resource for the discovery of antibiotics.”

Scientists in the study included Alex Gray of the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab, and colleagues from the Faculty of Science led by Professor Brent Copp and Manaaki Whenua led by Dr Bevan Weir.

“I would like to warmly thank New Zealand Carbon Farming and Cure Kids for their support of our Antibiotics Discovery Project over the past few years, as well as all members of the public who have donated to our crowdfunding efforts.” , says Dr Wiles. “We couldn’t do our job without this support.

Link to the journal article: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2021.739995/full

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