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Dr. William Wood, Humboldt State University – Natural Anti-Microbial Compounds

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. William Wood of Humboldt State University explains the search for natural sources of new antibiotics.

William Wood is a professor of organic and general chemistry at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California.  His research is focused on the area of chemical ecology, specifically how plants and animals use chemicals to convey messages. His research has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and he holds a Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Dr. William Wood – Natural Anti-Microbial Compounds

The search for new drugs to thwart attack by pathogenic microbes is unending.  Researchers have combed the world looking for new antibiotics ,and until now, molds and fungi have been the most common source of  newly discovered antibiotics. But in our lab, we have been investigating a new source of antimicrobial compounds.  We’ve found that some chemicals in mammalian scent glands have significant antifungal and antibiotic activity.

This research started during an investigation of California black-tailed deer hoof gland secretions.  Initially we hypothesized that these glands contain pheromones to mark deer tracks, but after a number of unsuccessful attempts to lure deer to these chemicals, we looked for another function of the hoof gland secretions.  

Deer regularly rub these glands on over much of their body.  Thus, we theorized that they might be spreading beneficial chemicals, perhaps antimicrobial agents on their skin.  On testing, the athlete’s foot fungus and the acne bacteria were inhibited by the deer gland compounds.  These chemicals then served as a guide in the preparation of other compounds.  Some of the synthetic compounds we prepared were more active against acne bacteria than the original compounds.
For years, the function of animal scent glands has focused on chemical communication.  Our research shows that the production of antibiotics may be another function of these skin glands.  Further research in this area has the potential to find new antibiotic compounds, that in the future, might be useful in human medicine.

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