Soil microbes are untapped sources of new antibioitcs. The British chemist Lesley Orgel had a rule: Evolution is cleverer than you. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have repeatedly proven him right. Since humans started making antibiotics for ourselves in the 1940s, bacteria have evolved to national geographic science of everything pdf download our efforts.
There are strains of old foes that withstand everything we can throw at them. Meanwhile, our arsenal has dried up. Before 1962, scientists developed more than 20 new classes of antibiotics. Since then, they have made two.
A team of scientists led by Kim Lewis from Northeastern University have identified a new antibiotic called teixobactin, which kills some kinds of bacteria by preventing them from building their outer coats. They used it to successfully treat antibiotic-resistant infections in mice. And more importantly, when they tried to deliberately evolve strains of bacteria that resist the drug, they failed. Bacteria will eventually develop ways of beating teixobactin—remember Orgel—but the team are optimistic that it will take decades rather than years for this to happen. Teixobactin isn’t even the most promising part of its own story. Having the rod guarantees that we’ll get more fish—and we desperately need more.
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Bacteria have been fighting each other for billions of years before we arrived, so environmental microbes are a rich source of potential new antibiotics. The problem is that 99 percent of them won’t grow in lab conditions. So, why not bring the environment into the lab? It’s just a board with several holes in it.
The dilution ensures that each hole, now plugged by a disc of solid agar, contains just one bacterial cell. They then covered the discs in permeable membranes and dunked the whole board into a beaker of the original soil. Gautam Dantas from Washington University in St Louis. Among these new microbes, the team found one species that kills staph bacteria efficiently. It belongs to an entirely new genus and is part of a group that’s not known for making antibiotics.