Scientists Discover a New Antibiotic… in the Dirt

For the past century, we have used antibiotics to fight bacterial infections.  In the meantime, bacteria have evolved to become stronger and more resistant.

“Drug resistant infections are already on the rise,” a UK commission reported in 2014.  “Globally, at least 700,000 die each year of drug resistance in illnesses such as bacterial infections, malaria, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis.”

As I have blogged, scientists are in a race against superbugs to discover new antibiotics.

Normally, microbiologists work in controlled laboratories, growing antibiotics in a petri dish.  But this approach is becoming less and less productive.   While “cultured bacteria have been a major source of clinically useful antibiotics,” a team of U.S. researchers notes, “only a fraction of bacterial diversity is regularly cultivated in the laboratory.”

Remarkably, these researchers have just discovered a new class of antibiotics literally hiding in the dirt.  They took hundreds of soil samples from around the country, extracted DNA samples and analyzed them for interesting genetic sequences.  They used an Agilent TapeStation to quantify DNA samples and an Agilent HPLC to isolate and clean up those samples.

The result is an entirely new class of antibiotics.  In animal models, these malacidins are active against multidrug-resistant pathogens, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA).

The researchers stress that it will be years before a commercial antibiotic can be developed, tested and approved for human use.  But it’s amazing to realize that the future of human health may be lurking directly beneath our feet.

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