Multi-tasking maggots in superbug showdown | Action Medical Research

Multi-tasking maggots in superbug showdown

5 August 2008

Scientists at Swansea University have discovered a new type of antibiotic in maggot secretions that can tackle up to 12 different strains of MRSA, as well as E. coli and C. difficile. This research was funded by leading charity Action Medical Research, with support from the Rosetrees Trust.

The antibiotic, named Seraticin™, is derived from the maggot secretions of the common green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata) and scientists hope to develop it into an injection, pill or ointment.

So far, they have purified Seraticin™ and undertaken the study of its structure and the mechanism by which it prevents infection. The next steps will be to complete the identification of the compound and develop a way to synthesise it. It can then be tested on human cells and eventually in clinical trials in order to determine its medical effectiveness and properties as a novel antibiotic.

MRSA infections cause suffering, amputations and death, not to mention the estimated £1 billion cost to the NHS. Between 2002 and 2006, 6,201 deaths in England and Wales involved MRSA and 15,683 deaths in England and Wales involved C. difficile. The rapid rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria means that scientists urgently need to find a solution.

Using live maggots on infected wounds is an age-old method of tackling infection and they work with amazing speed. It’s not uncommon for someone to suffer from chronic infected wounds for 18 months, despite all sorts of conventional treatment, but when maggots are applied to the same wound they can often begin to clear infection in just a few days. They have even been known to save people from having limbs amputated.

Dr Yolande Harley of Action Medical Research said: “The discovery of a potential new antibiotic is an exciting advance. It could mean a possible novel treatment for people with chronic wounds that are infected with MRSA or other bugs. By developing the pure antibiotic into a formula, such as a cream, it could reduce the contact patients need to have with live maggots to heal wounds. It could also offer a potential treatment, such as an injection or pill, for internal infections like C. difficile.”

Professor Norman Ratcliffe, a principal researcher on the project at Swansea University, said: “It has been a huge team effort to get to this level and I am delighted with our progress; however there is more to do if we are to realise the maximum benefits from this discovery. It takes approximately 20 mugs of maggots to yield just one drop of purified Seraticin™ at present. Thus, the next stage will be to confirm its exact identity using mass spectrometry and nuclear magnetic resonance analyses in order for us to produce this chemically on a larger scale. “

Dr Alun Morgan of ZooBiotic Ltd, based in Wales, that supplied the maggots for the project, said: “Maggots are great little multi-taskers. They produce enzymes that clean wounds, they make a wound more alkaline which may slow bacterial growth and finally they produce a range of antibacterial chemicals that stop the bacteria growing.”

Notes to editors:

For further information please contact:

Clare Coleman or Heather Forse at Action Medical Research

Tel: 01403 327480 / 01403 327478

Email: or

Bethan W Evans,
Public Relations Officer,
Swansea University.
Tel: 01792 295050

- Photographs of maggots, green bottle flies and the research team are available.
- The research team at Swansea University, Dr Yolande Harley of Action Medical Research and people with experience of using live maggot therapy are available for interview.
- The charity Action Medical Research has supported this work since 2006 and will continue to do so until at least 2010 through grants totaling £350,000.
- Statistics and information relating to deaths from MRSA and C. difficile are sourced from the Office for National Statistics, Health Statistics Quarterly, summer 2008. ‘Deaths involving MRSA and Clostridium difficile by communal establishment: England and Wales, 2001-06’.

Action Medical Research.

- Action Medical Research is a national charity, which is dedicated to building a healthier future for everyone. The Charity is funding research into many serious diseases and conditions, including premature birth, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, osteoporosis, blindness, inflammatory bowel disease and stroke.

- Action Medical Research has helped to fund medical breakthroughs for over 50 years, and its life-saving work benefits babies, children and adults. The Charity's successes include helping develop the UK polio vaccine, ultrasound scanning in pregnancy, the hip replacement operation and discovering the link between taking folic acid during pregnancy and preventing spina bifida. The Maggot Research Team at Swansea University.

- This research project has resulted from interdisciplinary collaboration between the Department of Environmental and Molecular Biosciences, the School of the Environment and Society and the School of Health Science, utilising the facilities of the Biomolecular Analysis Mass Spectrometry unit, together with partners at the Universities of Antwerp and Ghent. This project, together with a number of studies across campus elucidating the structures and functions of natural products, forms an important component of the multimillion Natural Products Cymru bid for major Convergence Funding from the EU.

MRSA – methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
- Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus): This is a common bacterium that lives harmlessly on the skin and in the nose of about one third of people. It is more common on skin that is broken, for example, by a cut or sore. S. aureus can cause problems when it gets the opportunity to enter the body. This is more likely to happen in people who are already unwell.
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): This is a variety of S. aureus that is resistant to methicillin, and some of the other antibiotics that are usually used to treat S. aureus. This sometimes makes it more difficult to treat MRSA infections.
- MRSA does respond to antibiotics, but patients may need much higher doses over a longer period. However it is this resistance that makes it dangerous to vulnerable hospital patients.

Clostridium difficile (C. difficile)
- This is a spore forming bacterium which is present as one of the ‘normal’ bacteria in the gut of up to three per cent of healthy adults. It is much more common in babies – up to two-thirds of infants may have C. difficile in the gut, where it rarely causes problems. People over the age of 65 are more susceptible to contracting infection. C.difficile typically causes illness in people who have been taking broad spectrum antibiotics.

Help us spread the word