Scientists find promising new antibiotic - in the soil

Antibiotics family discovered in soil could be the answer to antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics found in these samples killed a variety of multi drug-resistant, disease causing bacteria. The report of the study appeared in the latest issue of the journal Nature Microbiology.

When they implanted the gene cluster into Streptomyces bacteria, the cells produced two new antibiotics, which were found to be active against Gram-positive bacteria, including multidrug-resistant pathogens. Malacidin is a distant chemical relative of daptomycin but works differently.

Malacidin's mode of action also means resistance is less likely to develop, as it works by tying up the supply of a bacterium's cell wall building blocks rather than targeting a key enzyme that could mutate.

Experts have previously warned antibiotic resistance poses "as big a risk as terrorism" and could revert modern society back to 19th century conditions where a simple infection or operation may be life-threatening.

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The identification of this new antibiotic is similar to that of penicillin, the world's first antibiotic drug first discovered in mold bacteria by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming in 1928. The search for new antibiotics is of importance to human health, given that infectious diseases remain a leading cause of death worldwide. Furthermore, in the absence of new therapies, mortality rates due to untreatable infections are predicted to rise.

Soil is thought to be a good source of antibiotics as its low-nutrient content forces different bacteria species to fight against each other for survival, making them "stronger". It uses calcium to disrupt bacterial cell walls, killing the cells.

The team knew that long after other antibiotics would have stopped being effective, daptomycin continues to kill its targets, and theorized that this unique ability may have something to do with its use of calcium.

To find these molecules, Brady and his colleagues have been using a culture-independent discovery platform that enables them to extract, clone, and sequence DNA from soil samples without having to grow bacteria in the lab.

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The malacidin chemical, identified by Dr Sean Brady and his laboratory at Rockefeller University, New York, works by attacking a fundamental step in bacterial growth, essentially interfering with a major building block that the bacteria use to build and fix their outer membrane.

When they found what they were looking for in a particular sample of desert soil, they captured and cloned the relevant genes, rearranged and inserted them into a host organism, and expanded the resulting sample through fermentation.

"Now we need to say, 'You guys can do even better, '" Lewis said.

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