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Virgin soils of Kericho provide answers for failing antibiotics

Useful bacteria in soils are not entirely new in the pharmaceutical world. They occur widely, especially in undisturbed soils, and have been the source of most of the current antibiotics in use and even cancer medicines.PHOTO:COURTESY

Kenyan scientists have found a medicinal substance that could play an important role in combating drug-resistant germs.

The researchers from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) have found the substance in the virgin soils of Kipkelion East and West, Belgut, Ainamoi, Sigowet, and Bureti sub-counties in Kericho County.

Called Actinomycetes, the substance is described on MedicineNet.com as a group of gram-positive bacteria that produce antibiotics, enzymes and vitamins.

Antibiotics are useful in preventing or treating bacterial infections.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria due to overuse and misuse of antibiotics is the biggest medical crisis facing the world today.

In the January 2017 issue of Advances in Microbiology journal, the researchers say the newly discovered substance could provide new and more potent antibiotics that could be vital in treating such bacteria.

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Useful bacteria in soils are not entirely new in the pharmaceutical world. They occur widely, especially in undisturbed soils, and have been the source of most of the current antibiotics in use and even cancer medicines.

But older medicines, explains the all-female team coordinated by Dr Naomi Maina, are no longer effective against most disease-causing germs, hence the unfolding health crisis.

Hit pay-dirt

This is what prompted Mercy Chepkurui Rotich, Esther Magiri and Christine Bii to head back to the forests of Kericho to search for yet-to-be-exploited strains of actinomycetes.

“Kericho County has different types of soil and also exotic forests which may have novel actinomycetes that haven’t been explored,” says the study.

The research area is located in a region of high altitude and the right soil composition providing a good environment for new bacteria.

The prospectors, as the report indicates, are on their way to hitting pay dirt, having isolated 107 of the organisms, with more than a third – 36 per cent – confirmed at the Kemri labs to be active against several disease-causing germs.

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A significant number of the organisms were found to effectively kill certain germs, some notorious for causing hard-to-treat pneumonia and blood and skin infections.

The 2016 Economic Survey reported that pneumonia killed more people in Kenya in 2015 (22,473 ) than the former leading killer, malaria (20,691).

 

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