Swiss team at ETH spotlights potential of a new antibiotic found in nature

Investigators in Switzerland have discovered a protein found in nature that may serve as a solid target for developers interested in creating stable new antibiotics.

ETH's Markus Aebi

Researchers led by Professor Markus Aebi at ETH Zurich say that copsin, found in fungi that grows in horse dung, has a durable design and a clear ability to kill various types of bacteria. They've patented their work, interested in exploring whether they are on the trail of a new antibiotic at a time public health officials around the globe are clamoring for alternatives to what is currently available. For now, Aebi says he's intrigued but not convinced.

"Whether copsin will one day be used as an antibiotic in medicine remains to be seen," says the professor, according to a release from ETH. "This is by no means certain, but it cannot be ruled out either."

Copsin is part of a new class of small protein antibiotics called defensins. It can resist threatening enzymes and has proved highly durable at extreme temperatures. And it works against bacteria by binding to lipid II, found on the cell wall of bacteria.

In addition to its antibiotic potential, the researchers say that they'd like to find out whether copsin can do double duty in guarding against food poisoning by eliminating pathogens like Listeria. 

- here's the release