Soil search unearths new class of antibiotics

Antibiotics family discovered in soil could be the answer to antibiotic resistance

Malacidin's mode of action also means resistance is less likely to develop, as it works by tying up the supply of a bacterium's cell wall building blocks rather than targeting a key enzyme that could mutate.

Called malacidins, the new class is capable of killing many types of superbugs, including Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), often spread in hospitals and places where infection can spread easily.

Brady is quick to note that research into malacidins is in its very early stages, and development of the molecules into an antibiotic with clinical applications is a long way off.

Not bad for a compound that's been hiding in soil for eons.

This brand-new antibiotic class, called malacidins (short for metagenomic acidic lipopeptide antibiotic-cidins) has been isolated from bacteria that live in soil.

Experts have hailed this new antibiotic from soil the next big thing because, a new antibiotic has not been discovered since 1987. Even better, this discovery would stand out as a singular event in the ongoing quest towards solving the growing problem of drug-resistant bacteria.

As a result, numerous workhorses of the world of antibiotics - members of the penicillin, cephalosporin and carbapenem classes - are losing their ability to fight a lengthening list of bacterial diseases. And many more die from other conditions that were complicated by an antibiotic-resistant infection.

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'In the absence of new therapies, mortality rates due to untreatable infections are predicted to rise more than tenfold by 2050'. The result could be new discoveries, and a new way of sifting the soil for compounds that might make good medicine.

The team of researchers led by Sean F. Brady, a chemist and associate professor, and his colleagues at Rockefeller University in NY looked at the bacterial DNA from 2,000 soil samples that were taken from different parts of United States. It suggests that there are even more of them out there, ' says Brady.

In order to hasten the process of culturing soil bacteria in a lab, the researchers used high-speed computer processing to "screen" their soil sampled for this calcium use.

Malacidin was able to successfully attack and break down the cell walls of the harmful bacteria, clearing up the rats' skin infections in just a day.

When they implanted the gene cluster into Streptomyces bacteria, the cells produced two new antibiotics, which were found to be active against Gram-positive bacteria, including multidrug-resistant pathogens.

"They've used a clever approach to mine for antibiotics", said microbiologist Kim Lewis, who directs Northeastern University's Antimicrobial Discovery Center and wasn't involved in the work. A Rockefeller University-led team of scientists found a new family of antibiotics in dirt, the BBC reported. They hypothesized that the genes responsible for this "calcium-dependent motif" might be found in other compounds.

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