These wonder drugs were first discovered by Alexander Fleming, a Scottish scientist. Sean Brady, PhD, is a microbiologist at Rockefeller University in New York City. He believes that the future of antibiotics could be in the soil right outside our doors.
- The world is currently facing an antibiotic crisis and Brady’s discovery comes 90 years after Fleming.
- Superbugs have developed resistance to dozens of highly effective antibiotics.
- This has led to infections that are increasingly difficult and expensive to treat.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 2 million Americans are infected each year with bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics. These infections cause at least 23,000 deaths each year.
It is also estimated that antibiotic-resistant infections will cause 10 million deaths per year worldwide by 2050.
Looking for solutions?
Scientists around the globe are working against the clock to create new molecules that kill microbes. However, researchers claim that most of the answers to this problem have been discovered.
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Brady is not interested in growing antibiotics in a dish like Fleming or the scientists who followed him. Instead, Brady wants to discover new medicines in the ground.
Brady stated that there are many bacteria living in the ground. This makes it a potential source of antibiotics. “Many of them create molecules that have never before been seen.”
- Brady and his coworkers published their study in Nature Microbiology last month.
- They discovered a new type of antibiotic that was extracted from soil microorganisms.
This class, which they call “malacidins,” killed several superbugs in laboratory rats, including the dreaded methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), without engendering resistance.
- Within a matter of days, the new antibiotic was able to attack and clear MRSA skin infections in animals.
Brady stated that a significant portion of drugs used in clinics today, including antibiotics, are derived from characterizing molecules produced by living organisms, specifically bacteria.
He explained that most antibiotics we use are compounds we have isolated from bacteria. These compounds are likely to be used by one bacteria to kill another bacteria. They don’t come out of what people think: Chemical engineers in the lab create random compounds, and suddenly you have an anti-biotic.
- Ten years of research
- About ten years ago, researchers began to use a new approach.
Brady explained that they didn’t try to cultivate bacteria but instead took soil and extracted DNA and made bacteria that could be grown.
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That was his research group for the past ten years.
Other researchers are using metagenomics to search for new antibiotics in unlikely places, such as ocean water or insect guts.
Brady explained that bacteria is extracted from dirt. Then, the dirt is heated in the presence of detergent and purified. “DNA is DNA. It doesn’t matter from where it came. We put that DNA in bugs we have grown in the laboratory. You go through these clones and these lab bugs and find the most interesting ones, which might lead to antibiotics.
- A worldwide problem
- In the non-Western World, antibiotic resistance is more common.
Dr. Peter Collignon, a prominent antibiotic-resistance expert, infectious diseases physician, and microbiologist at Canberra Hospital in Australia said, “Superbugs are a problem and they’re getting worse.”
Healthline reported that he said, “It’s more of a concern in developing countries, however, they are a problem throughout the world, including in the U.S. and Australia.”
Collignon stated that “we have life-threatening infections which are difficult and sometimes impossible to treat.” Collignon said that this is a Western perspective. The reality is that many common infections in Asia, China, Vietnam, Vietnam and India are virtually untreatable due to the high levels of antibiotic resistance.