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Turning Plant Waste into Antibiotic Solutions
Nebraska Ag Connection - 09/15/2023

Antibiotic resistance poses a growing global health risk. As estimated, drug-resistant diseases could lead to 10 million deaths annually by 2050. Addressing this issue costs the U.S. about $55 billion yearly. The problem extends beyond needing new antibiotics; it's about finding effective coatings and disinfectants to counter infections from hospital surfaces and wastewater systems.

To combat this, scientists have been exploring synthetic antimicrobials. While effective, they're costly and might hurt the environment. Recognizing the need for a green solution, Shudipto Dishari, a noted professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, highlights the potential of lignin, an abundant natural polymer.

Dishari's team modified lignin from Norway spruce trees with a bacteria-killing component, QAL, to create new antimicrobials. QAL targeted the outer layer of antibiotic-resistant E. coli strain, making it difficult for bacteria to resist its effects. The modified lignin showed minimal toxicity to human cells, indicating its safety.

Lignin is abundant, often seen as waste from paper mills and biorefineries. Over 100 million tons of lignin are produced globally each year, mostly discarded or burned. Dishari emphasizes the potential of turning this "waste" into valuable antimicrobials, supporting various industries and a sustainable bioeconomy.

Dishari, along with Karen Acurio Cerda and other researchers, is focused on exploring green solutions for antimicrobials using lignin from Norway spruce. They believe that various plant sources offer different lignin structures, and that nature holds many answers, urging us to listen.

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