Breakthrough! UPLB researchers find bacterial species in Mayon with potential antibiotic, anti-cancer properties

Published August 4, 2021, 7:58 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza 

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has bared the discovery of a specific bacterial species from the soils of Mount Mayon that has potential antibiotic and anti-colorectal cancer properties.


The DOST said based on the study of researchers from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), a specific bacterial isolate identified as “Streptomyces sp. A1-08” has shown antibiotic activity against numerous potentially pathogenic microorganisms and anti-colorectal cancer potential.

It is one of the 30 bacteria that were isolated from soil samples of Mt. Mayon in Malilipot, Albay, it said.

Kristel Mae P. Oliveros, the project leader and an assistant professor in UPLB Microbiology Division, said they were “totally surprised and excited” about the results of their experiments.

“We have high hopes of getting new and novel species because this is a less explored environment, a volcano”, she said in a statement posted on DOST Facebook page.

Albert Remus R. Rosana, who joined the research with Oliveros and is currently a PhD student at the University of Alberta, Canada, explained that that once confirmed that Streptomyces sp. A1-08 is a new species, it will be named as “Streptomyces mayonensis A1-08” in honor of our country.

The DOST noted that of the initially isolated 30 bacterial species from Mt. Mayon’s volcanic soils, “13 of them have shown varying antibiotic activities in different test organisms that were known as pathogenic to humans or plants.”

Among the test organisms are Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus and its methicillin-resistant variant, Candida albicans, Aspergillus niger, and an unspecified Fusarium species, it said.

“One of the objectives of the study is to screen actinomycete isolates for antimicrobial activity. Therefore, we ensured that our selected test organisms would represent some of the major groups of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts, and molds to capture a broader antimicrobial spectrum result,” Oliveros said.

She added that the choice of test organisms was also associated with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) list of human pathogens that pose eminent danger to human health by 2050, mainly due to antibiotic resistance.

Oliveros’ team said the 30 bacterial isolates found in Mount Mayon’s volcanic soils “most likely produce unique chemical compounds that may have medical, pharmaceutical, and even cosmeceutical uses.”

Streptomyces species in general are known to produce medically and pharmaceutically important products.


Anti-cancer, genomic tests

The research team noted that of the 30 bacterial isolates found in the volcano, Streptomyces sp. A1-08 stood out because it has shown antagonistic effects on all test microorganisms and the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

“Abundant in hospitals, MRSA is strongly resistant against antibiotics which makes treatment of infections more difficult. In fact, the WHO has declared antimicrobial resistance as one of the top 10 global threats to public health,” the DOST noted.

With this, Oliveros’ team decided to further study Streptomyces sp. A1-08, using the anti-colorectal cancer test and genomic analysis.

Based on their anti-colorectal cancer test, crude extracts from Streptomyces sp. A1-08 suggested low potency when compared to a doxorubicin, a chemotherapy drug.

“It is good to remember that the positive control doxorubicin is a pure, proven and tested commercially available chemotherapy drug. In contrast, the ethyl acetate extract of [Streptomyces sp.] A1-08 which we have used in the study, [is] a crude extract, and therefore still a complex mixture and may contain multitude of raw compounds at different concentrations,” Oliveros said.

Those raw compounds can be purified further to develop an exact anticancer drug, the research team noted.

They likewise conducted genomics analysis – or the study of the organism’s complete set of DNAs to identify the specific genes of Streptomyces sp. A1-08 responsible for producing antibiotic and anticancer compounds and to help them zero in on the specific identity of the bacterial isolate.

“In our genomics work, we use computer software to build the correct sequence of the Lego pieces and predict target outcomes, which in our research are the different antibiotics and potential anti-cancer molecules,” Rosana said.


Oliveros described their findings as a “jackpot”, but stressed the need to conduct more studies.

“Way forward, further studies should be made for us to establish that this novel species can likewise produce novel bioactive compounds,” she said.

“Future rigorous research in drug chemistry combined with metabolomics are vital to claim that the secondary metabolites produced by our isolate is totally new and hopefully effective as a chemotherapy drug.”

Metabolomics is defined as a study of metabolites involved in chemical processes happening in an organism.

“This is also our dream, to put this project forward in the large-scale cosmeceutical and pharmaceutical pipeline!” Oliveros said, citing the need “to showcase the known and great potential of the Philippines as a promising land that harbors natural products for drug discovery”.

Other UPLB researchers who joined Oliveros and Rosana in their groundbreaking work are Andrew D. Montecillo, Dr. Rina B. Opulencia, Arian J. Jacildo, Dr. Asuncion K. Raymundo, and the late Dr. Teofila O. Zulaybar.

The DOST noted that the study was funded by the UPLB Basic Research Grant and scholarship grants given to Rosana.

This paper was recently accepted in the DOST’s peer-reviewed publication, Philippine Journal of Science (PJS).

The PJS is the country’s oldest peer-reviewed scientific journal. It is published by the DOST- Science and Technology Information Institute (DOST-STII).

Although the paper is lined up on the PJS’ December 2021 issue, its full copy will be uploaded immediately on the journal’s website ( as soon as its ready for public reading, the DOST said.