The word antibiotic comes from the Greek anti meaning 'against' and bios meaning 'life' (a bacterium is a life form).' Antibiotics are also known as antibacterials, and they are drugs used to treat infections caused by bacteria. Bacteria are tiny organisms that can sometimes cause illness to humans and animals. The singular word for bacteria is bacterium.
Such illnesses as tuberculosis, salmonella, syphilis and some forms of meningitis are caused by bacteria. Some bacteria are not harmful, while others are good for us.
Before bacteria can multiply and cause symptoms our immune system can usually destroy them. We have special white blood cells that attack harmful bacteria. Even if symptoms do occur, our immune system can usually cope and fight off the infection. There are occasions, however, when it is all too much and our bodies need some help - from antibiotics.
The first antibiotic was penicillin. Such penicillin-related antibiotics as ampicillin, amoxicillin and benzylpenicilllin are widely used today to treat a variety of infections - these antibiotics have been around for a long time. There are several different types of modern antibiotics and they are only available with a doctor's prescription in industrialized countries.
A mineral found at health food stores could be the key to developing a new line of antibiotics for bacteria that commonly cause diarrhea, tooth decay and, in some severe cases, death.
The trace mineral selenium is found in a number of proteins in both bacterial cells and human cells called selenoproteins. University of Central Florida Associate Professor William Self's research shows that interrupting the way selenoproteins are made can halt the growth of the super bug Clostridium difficile and Treponema denticola, a major contributor to gum disease.
Infections of Clostridium difficile (commonly known as C-diff) lead to a spectrum of illnesses ranging from severe diarrhea to colitis, which can cause death. It's a life-threatening problem in hospitals and nursing homes worldwide, and the number of cases is on the rise. There are an estimated 500,000 cases per year in the United States alone. Between 15,000 to 20,000 people die each year while infected with this superbug. Treponema denticola is one of leading causes of gum disease and costs individuals thousands of dollars in dental care each year.
Self's findings are published in the May and June editions of the Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry and the Journal of Bacteriology. The National Institutes of Health and the Florida Department of Health funded the research, which was conducted at UCF during the past three years.
"It's the proof of principle that we are excited about," Self said from his research lab at UCF. "No one has ever tried this approach, and it could potentially be a source for new narrow spectrum antibiotics that block bacteria that require selenium to grow."