Scientists have dug up a new antibiotic

As a society we have become very dependent on antibiotics since penicillin was introduced 70 years ago. Before then healthy adults would die of sceptic shock from massive infection. We don’t want to go back to those days, and so we need to develop new antibiotics at least as fast as the bacteria in hospitals are evolving resistance to our existing ones*.

Only develop is perhaps not the right word, we did not develop the penicillin molecule, a species of fungus evolved to produce it, and the story is the same for other antibiotics such as streptomycin – which is produced by a soil dwelling bacterium. Evolution is not only very good at producing resistance to an antibiotic, in most cases it produced the antibiotic in the first place.

To attack the ever-increasing problem of antibiotic resistance, a team of mainly American and German scientists went back to the soil. They developed a neat new way of growing soil bacteria, and then screened the growing bacteria for molecules produced by the bacteria which killed some of the nastier bugs that infect us. They found one, which they dubbed texiobactin. It appears to be an entirely new class of antibiotic. If it is proven to work as well in the hospital as in the lab, this looks like a much needed breakthrough.

*There is a nice Forbes article on resistance, and how it may be fate of all new antibiotics sooner rather than later.

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