One of the hardiest insects around, the cockroach, may hold the key to next-generation antibiotics, British scientists hope.

The brain and nervous system of the cockroach and the locust hold nine molecules that are toxic to superbugs which are becoming resistant to mainstream drugs, Nottingham University, central England, said in a press release on Monday.

In lab-dish tests, postgrad researcher Simon Lee found the novel compounds killed more than 90 percent of poisonous Escherichia coli and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) germs.

Work is underway to see how the molecules stand up against emerging superbugs such as Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and Burkholderia.

Lee, who will be presenting the work at the Society for General Microbiology's meeting this week, said he was unsurprised that insects could naturally secrete their own antimicrobial drugs.

"Insects often live in unsanitary and unhygienic environments where they encounter many different types of bacteria. It is therefore logical that they have developed ways of developing themselves against micro-organism," Lee said.

The research is still at a very early phase. Many years of testing lie ahead if the promise continues to hold true.