Mining the Soil for New Antibiotics

A new antibiotic effective against a broad range of superbugs including MRSA, which the scientists are calling Teixobactin has been discovered. Teixobactin also appears to be effective at fighting a raft of other superbugs and increasingly diffficult to treat infections including enterococci, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Clostridium difficile and Bacillus anthracis.Soil bacteria fighting drug resistance

Teixobactin - a new super-penicillin?

Furthermore, the scientists have been unable to detect the creation of super bug mutants even after mixing Teixobactin with these bacteria and cultivating them under normal laboratory conditions. Therefore, these early results are very exciting and have the potential to have as much impact on effective modern medicine as the discovery of penicillin itself.

According to the paper published in Nature, Teixobactin has an ability to penetrate and disrupt the bacterial cell wall defenses in otherwise drug-resistant super bugs where other antibiotics fail. This penetration by the drug through the cell wall results in cell lysis and bacterial cell death.

Earth - The Mother of Drug Invention

It is perhaps the elegance and simplicity of the scientific method to discover these new drug secreting soil bacteria that is of as much interest as the outcome. The reason for this is that the normal method for cultivating bacteria is to obtain samples from the environment and to grow them in the laboratory in petri dishes on various different types of growth media - often with a gel or agar base. The trouble is that 99 percent of all species of bugs simply cannot grow in these laboratory conditions - and they and their products are therefore not discovered.

Returning Bugs to Mother Nature

The scientists have therefore produced an ingeniouis system for separating out the individual species of unidentified bugs into separate chambers, and then returning them to their natural habitat where they can grow and thrive into larger colonies. Once a colony is formed there are then sufficient numbers of the organism to work with, identify and the products they produce (including Teixobactin) can be isolated.and then tested.

Soil Bugs - a "Precious Shared Resource".

The ability to now be able to grow the other 99% of environmental bacteria naturally provides a huge new source of drug discovery. The bacterium responsible for producing Teixobactin is called Eleftheria terrae.

The authors of the paper say: "Uncultured bacteria make up approximately 99% of all species in external environments, and are an untapped source of new antibiotics. We developed several methods to grow uncultured organisms by cultivation in situ or by using specific growth factors".

Commenting on the paper, Professor Chris Butler, Director of the Institute of Primary Care and Public Health, Cardiff University, said:Discoveries of truly new antibiotic classes are indeed rare and to be warmly welcomed, given the inexorable rise in gram-negative bacterial resistance." He goes on to say, “While exciting, this is very early phase research and we have no idea if this agent will be safe or effective in humans. As the authors rightly point out, resistance usually does emerge to new antibiotics, so if future trials show that this antibiotic is suitable for widespread use in humans, we have to treat it as a precious shared resource.”

Professor Timothy Walsh, Institute of Infection and Immunity, Cardiff University, Professor Tim Walsh
said: “This new antibiotic, Teixobactin, is directed at Gram-positive bacteria like MRSA. The exciting development in mice is more directed towards the technology used to recover and grow bacteria which hitherto was not possible. The article describes a multichannel device, the iChip10, which was used to simultaneously isolate and grow uncultured bacteria and by doing so use these ‘friendly bacteria’ as a unique source of antibiotics that can inhibit or kill pathogens in mice that also affect humans."
He goes on to say,“Whilst anti-Gram-positive antibiotic are useful, the global clinical community is desperate for new, and even novel antibiotics against multi-drug resistant Gram-negative bacteria. However, further exploitation of this technology can, and potentially should, meet this clinical challenge.”
Medication to treat infections caused by microbes (organisms that can't be seen with the naked eye), such as bacteria. Full medical glossary
A group of organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye, which are usually made up of just a single cell. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of all living organisms. Full medical glossary
The large intestine. Full medical glossary
The growth within a laboratory of microbes, organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye. Full medical glossary
A chemical that stimulates new cell growth and maintenance in the body. Full medical glossary
Invasion by organisms that may be harmful, for example bacteria or parasites. Full medical glossary
An element present in haemoglobin in the red cells. Full medical glossary

  A bacterium, virus, or other microorganism that can cause disease.

Full medical glossary
The ability of a microbe, such as a type of bacteria, to resist the effects of antibiotics or other drugs. Full medical glossary
A microbe, such as a type of bacteria, that is able to resist the effects of antibiotics or other drugs. Full medical glossary
septic arthritis Full medical glossary
An infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium Tuberculosis. Full medical glossary