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Human Sweat May Serve as Effective Weapon against Drug-Resistant Bacteria

Update Date: Feb 22, 2013 02:35 PM EST

One of the best antibiotics we are able to access is right within us - or outside us, to be more specific. Researchers have found that a compound in human sweat is remarkably adept at fighting against intruders. The scientists hope that eventually, the power of the bug can be harnessed to fight against deadly infections like tuberculosis and drug-resistant superbugs.

The research was a multinational effort conducted by scientists from Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Germany, the University of Strasbourg in France and the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, among others. The study examined the chemical, dermcidin, which is found in human sweat.

The researchers investigated the chemical's atomic structure, according to the Daily Mail, in order to discover how it worked. The chemical dermcidin is controlled and released by the sweat glands. That's why, if you suffer from  a small cut, scratch or prick from a mosquito, the body is able to quickly and effectively rush in and squash bugs.

Called antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), this chemical is more effective in the long-term against intruders, because germs are not able to quickly develop a resistance to them.

The secret is in its structure. Dermcidin is unusually long, permeable and adaptable. It targets fungi and bacteria by permeating the cell's membrane. Because the chemical targets the cellular wall, the bug is unable to quickly develop a resistance. In addition, because the chemical is adaptable, it is well-suited for attacking both fungi and bacteria.

According to the Times of India, bugs that make their way onto human skin are stopped in their tracks by the zinc that appears in sweat. Then dermcidin moves in, setting water and charged particles across the cell membrane. Because the bacteria and fungi cannot move, they are defenseless against the chemical.

The chemical has already been known to triumph against such deadly invaders as tuberculosis and the hospital superbug Staphyloccocus aureus, which has caused life-threatening diseases and conditions for patients, like sepsis and pneumonia.

"Antibiotics are not only available on prescription. Our own bodies produce efficient substances to fend off bacteria, fungi and viruses," study author Ulrich Zachariae said, according to Sault Star. "Now that we know in detail how these natural antibiotics work, we can use this to help develop infection-fighting drugs that are more effective than conventional antibiotics."

To date, there are currently 1,700 natural antibiotics that have been documented to exist in the world.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat for the health sector.

The study was recently published in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.

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