Ancient Irish Soil Contains Powerful Superbug Antibiotic – Georgia Gray

A group of scientists from across the globe called The Traditional Medicine Group has discovered a novel Streptomyces species in Boho, West Fermanagh in Northern Ireland. The limestone grassland soil there is known to be used in Irish folk medicine for its antimicrobial properties, so the team was drawn there to investigate.

In findings published this month, Streptomyces spp. CJ13 was found to be effective in inhibiting the growth of well-known pathogens such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), as well as multidrug-resistant Pseudomonas aeruginosa (Quinn et al., 2021). These are just two of the most common superbugs found in hospitals. Usually, they live harmlessly in the environment, however, if they manage to enter an open wound, or infect someone who is immunocompromised, they can cause very serious infections of the blood and respiratory tract. MRSA is especially eager to colonise areas deep within the body – even inside bones – and is resistant to many commonly used antibiotics (Antibiotic Research UK, 2020).


A 3D-computer generated image of MRSA. bacteria. Credit: CDC, James Archer.

The novel bacterium’s genome was sequenced to confirm that the species belonged to the Streptomyces genus, and its closest relative was found to be Streptomyces lavendulae. Previously, in 2018, the team had isolated novel Streptomyces myrophorea from this same area, which had antibiotic properties against many ESKAPE pathogen strains. Such pathogens include carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, which WHO has placed in the highest priority grouping of antibiotic-resistant bacteria needing research (Terra et al., 2018) (WHO, 2017).

The exact compounds responsible for the anti-microbial action of these bacteria is unknown, however, Streptomyces spp. CJ13 has genes similar to others giving rise to antibiotic production. Traditionally, the uses of soil such as that found in West Fermanagh included treatment of toothache and throat infections.

One of the group’s researchers from Swansea University Medical School, Dr Paul Facey, said: “The fact that traditional medicine is incorporated in many local folk tales led us to believe that there was a good possibility of finding strong antibiotic-producing organisms in other locations in these limestone hills.”





Antibiotic Research UK. (2020). Superbugs. [Viewed 29.01.2021]

Quinn, G.A., Abdelhameed, A.M., Alharbi, N.K., et al. (2021) The Isolation of a Novel Streptomyces sp. CJ13 from a Traditional Irish Folk Medicine Alkaline Grassland Soil that Inhibits Multiresistant Pathogens and Yeasts. Applied Sciences. 11(1). 173.

Thomas, K. (2021) Researchers show Irish soil can offer more hope in fight against antibiotic resistance. Swansea University. [Viewed 29/01/2021]

Terra, L., Dyson, P.J., Hitchings, M.D., et al. (2018) A Novel Alkaliphilic Streptomyces Inhibits ESKAPE Pathogens. Frontiers in Microbiology. 9:2458.

WHO. (2017) Global priority list of antibiotic-resistant bacteria to guide research, discovery, and development of new antibiotics. []