Novel platform finds a new antibiotic class in soil

Novel platform finds a new antibiotic class in soil

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.

In a report published this week in the journal Nature Microbiology, researchers describe a never-before-seen antibiotic agent that vanquished several strains of multidrug-resistant bacteria. In early tests in rats infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), the researchers found that the molecules were able to sterilize the infection area.

Malacidin is short for metagenomic acidic lipopeptide antibiotic-cidins. Malacidin is a distant chemical relative of daptomycin but works differently. And scientists have long believed that soil microbes could harbor many more, since they've had to develop mechanisms to compete with their neighbors for space and resources.

Scientists trawling through thousands of soil samples have discovered a whole new class of antibiotics capable of killing drug-resistant bacteria.

Even after 20 days of continued contact with malacidin, which is more than enough time for most bacteria to find a way to resist an antibiotic's powers, the MRSA bacteria in the rats showed no signs of evolving resistance.

Bob Hancock, a microbiologist at the University of British Colombia in Canada, says the method the team used to produce the antibiotics is "really blue-printable" and could be used to make a lot of new antimicrobial compounds. As a result, the new antibiotic managed to kill drug-resistant skin infections in animals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that this development of resistance is a "slow catastrophe" with over 23,000 deaths each year due to bacterial infections that are resistant to the antibiotics available for use.

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.

"In the absence of new therapies, mortality rates due to untreatable infections are predicted to rise more than tenfold by 2050", researchers warned. Brady called this new antibiotic "promising" and with good reason.

They also knew that trying to culture all their soil samples in a lab would take forever, and that most would not replicate themselves under lab conditions anyway. To expedite the process of obtaining the antibiotic they used high-speed computer processing to sift through the soil samples.

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.

Study author Professor Sean Brady from The Rockefeller University in NY, said: 'Topical administration was successful in sterilising MRSA-infected wounds in a rat model.

Brady says there are at least 10,000 bacteria under each footprint of soil, majority still unidentified.

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