Scientists maybe, possibly just discovered an amazing new antibiotic

But the actual antibiotic isn’t even what researchers in the field are excited about.

Okay, the short of this: The thing that’s so exciting isn’t the possibility of the new antibiotic.  That one still needs to go though human trials to be confirmed, so we shouldn’t get our hopes up.

No, the awesome thing here is the how.  They are using something called an ichip, which acts like a tiny apartment complex, each diffusion chamber holding a single bacteria that gets access to the things it needs to grow but still in such a state that a scientist can pick it up and extract stuff for study.  It can even grow things that can’t be grown in a lab, which allows for so much more possibilities for study.

In a pile of dirt.  In a researcher’s backyard.

Imagine what people will find beyond that.

From mud to medicine

The introduction of antibiotics into the field of medicine served as one of the largest human triumphs over pathogenic microbes in history. Unfortunately, the widespread use and misuse of these compounds has led to a variety of bacteria which have evolved resistance to antibiotics. One estimate states that by 2050, 10,000,000 people a year could be dying of previously curable bacterial infections, with bacteria evolving at the rate they are now(1). There is hope, however, due to the production of teixobactin, and the technology that was used to isolate it.

The power of teixobactin arises from targets it binds and inhibits. A peptidoglycan precursor’s (lipid II) and a teichoic acid precursor’s (lipid III) undecaprenyl-PP-sugar region serves as the binding site of the molecule, a highly conserved region that is not known to be modified(2). This gives teixobactin the ability to not easily be resisted by bacteria, due to the hard to modify nature of the essential target. Being a peptidoglycan synthesis inhibitor, in order to overcome teixobactin, bacteria have to develop a mechanism to destroy, inhibit, modify, or remove the antibiotic. A process that could take 30 years of harsh teixobactin use by some estimates(1). A new class of antibiotics may be upon us, that microbes are likely to have trouble in developing avoidance or resistance to.

Just as exciting as the discovery of teixobactin, the method used to isolate the antibiotic from Eleftheria terrae, also serves up huge potential. The iChip allows soil bacteria to grow in their natural environment, utilizing semi-permeable membranes that allow nutrients and growth factors to reach the isolated bacteria(3). This method helps to culture previously unculturable bacterial species, which serve as a potential resource for numerous antibiotics, other drugs, and energy sources. Using iChip technology to cultivate bacteria from a variety of geographic and climatic regions may lead to the isolation of a compound or compounds that eventually will one day help to win the war on pathogenic microbes.

Despite the Nature article first describing teixobactin and iChip technology being published a little over three weeks ago (January 7, 2015), a Google search of the two represents more than 1,250,000 hits. I chose this article over the ones in Forbes, Smithsonian Magazine, and National Geographic because it highlights both of the potential discoveries, furthermore, it uses a “War on Bacteria” motif very similar to that of my blog. I hope to emphasize the importance of reading the Nature article in addition to this Business Standard article, as it definitely helps to show what is going on. 

I feel a little better about the human outlook on disease after reading up on this topic, despite teixobactin only being applicable to a range of Gram positive bacteria (it was however effective a strain of E. coli with a defective outer membrane permeability barrier). The iChip technology is probably of my greatest interest, as within it holds the potential to discover a range of beneficial compounds, as well as serving as inspiration for newer cultivation techniques that don’t require a petri dish. As we delve deeper into this blog and begin to highlight other mechanisms and compounds used to fight this war, remember that with each discovery, there is a reason to be cheerful.

We’ve got this


The article everyone is talking about (and worth the read):