Scientists use cat bacteria to create powerful antibiotics for skin infection

Healthy cats harbor a bacteria that has been used to develop antibiotics, paving the way for a potential new way to treat severe skin infections. The research comes from the University of California – San Diego, where scientists identified a strain of bacteria found on cats' skin called Staphylococcus felis (S. felis) that naturally produces antibiotics against a different type of staph bacteria.

The researchers focused on a bacterium called Staphylococcus pseudintermedius (MRSP), which is found on cats and dogs and that can, in some cases, 'jump' between species. Humans can also develop an MRSP infection, which leads to severe eczema. Unfortunately, this particular pathogen is resistant to the antibiotics typically prescribed to deal with bacterial infections.

In search of a potential new solution for treating MRSP, the researchers behind this new study analyzed the bacteria commonly found on cats and dogs, zeroing in on S. felis that, it turns out, naturally creates antibiotics that are able to kill the MRSP bacterium. Study lead Richard L. Gallo, MD, Ph.D., described the potency as 'extreme.'

Of particular note is the bacteria's production of four different antimicrobial peptides, resulting in multiple antibiotics that attack the pathogen in different ways. The combination of a few different antibiotics working together makes it more difficult for the MRSP pathogen to overcome the antibiotics. Tests on mice showed promise for treating the skin condition.

The researchers plan a trial to determine whether the bacteria are able to treat MRSP infections in dogs. Creams, gels, or sprays based on the antibiotics produced by the cat bacteria may one day be commonly available to treat these infections, though additional research is still needed.