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Magic mushrooms: Siouxsie Wiles hunts for antibiotics in fungi

What wonders lie within Aotearoa’s fungi? Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles is finding out, as she and her team hunt for new antibiotics to prevent deadly diseases.

Dr Wiles and her colleagues delved into a treasure trove of more than 10,000 fungal cultures collected from plants and soil in New Zealand and the South Pacific.

They’re hunting for antibiotics to kill mycobacteria, which can cause deadly diseases including tuberculosis. Diseases becoming increasingly resistant to current antibiotics are a world problem.

In the scientists’ latest work, they have deemed a handful of fungi, including the likes of Lophodermium culmigenum, a plant decay fungus, and Trametes coccinea, a wood decay fungus, as worthy of further investigation.

That was after analyzing 36 fungi cultures.

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

Over decades, people have collected samples from all over the North and South Islands and as far afield as the Chatham Islands, often from fungi growing on rotting wood or dead leaves.

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

This makes it “an excellent and untapped resource for antibiotic discovery.”

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

``I’d like to say a massive thanks to New Zealand Carbon Farming and Cure Kids for supporting our antibiotic discovery project over the last few years, and also to all the members of the public who have donated to our crowdfunding efforts,” says Dr Wiles. “We couldn’t do our work without that support.”

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

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