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Scientists' hope for new seaweed-based antibiotic

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Media captionThe research aims to combat a growing immunity to antibiotics

Scientists are hoping to develop a new generation of antibiotics using seaweed.

The research, currently being carried out in Cornwall, aims to combat a growing immunity to antibiotics.

According to the Wellcome Trust, an estimated 700,000 people die globally every year due to antibiotic-resistant bugs, but scientists believe that figure could rise to 10 million by 2050 if no new types of antibiotic are created.

Seaweed gathered from rock pools around Cornwall has been analysed by researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School's European Centre for Environment and Human Health.

Early results have been encouraging. The seaweed has antimicrobial properties and samples of it are able to kill the superbug MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) which is prevalent in hospitals.

Image caption The scientists have found some seaweed samples are able to kill the superbug MRSA
Image caption Cornwall's "rich abundance of seaweed" makes it the perfect place for research, lead scientist Dr Michiel Vos says

Dr Michiel Vos, an expert in microbial evolution, is leading the research and believes the team's early findings have been very promising:

"We're using insights from ecology and evolutionary biology to help in the search for new drugs and our early experiments have confirmed that seaweeds hold a diverse array of antimicrobial properties," he said.

"Excitingly, some of these extracts are most effective against some of the more resistant and problematic bacteria and we're hoping our work will help to make the discovery of new drugs quicker and cheaper."

The project has also enabled a medical sciences student to spend a third year placement working on research that could have global implications.

Dr Vos said, although at a very early stage, the study had been so promising the team was trying to secure funding for a PhD position to extend the research.

"We've started to gain an understanding of how to focus our search for new antimicrobial compounds in nature," he said.

"To take these ideas further we'd like to create a dedicated research project that can really shed light on the potential we're seeing.

"With its rich abundance of coastline and seaweed species, Cornwall is the perfect place for this kind of research."

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