Promising Antibiotic Discovered In Microbial "Dark Matter"

Heidi Ledford | Scientific American | January 7, 2015

Potential drug kills pathogens such as MRSA—and was discovered by mining "unculturable" bacteria

An antibiotic with the ability to vanquish drug-resistant pathogens has been discovered — through a soil bacterium found just beneath the surface of a grassy field in Maine. Although the new antibiotic has yet to be tested in people, there are signs that pathogens will be slow to evolve resistance to it.  Today in Nature, a team led by Kim Lewis of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, report that the antibiotic, which they have named teixobactin, was active against the deadly bacterium MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in mice, and a host of other pathogens in cell cultures. If the compound behaves similarly in people, it may prove to be a much-needed triumph in the war against antibiotic-resistance.

The device used to discover teixobactin is generating excitement also because it has the potential to reveal further undiscovered antibiotics: it enables 'unculturable' microbes to thrive in the lab, and so makes it easier to discover bacteria that naturally produce compounds deadly to other pathogens.  “The technology is very cool,” says Gerard Wright, a biochemist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, who was not involved with the study. “Nobody knew if these bacteria produced anything useful.”

The news comes amid continuing warnings from public-health experts about the dangers of antibiotic resistance. In 2014, the World Health Organization declared that the post-antibiotic era — a time in which people could die from ordinary infections and minor injuries — could begin this century. MRSA has spread from hospitals into the community, and in 2013, there were 480,000 new cases of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis worldwide, a condition that requires treatment with increasingly toxic drugs...