Pay dirt! Scientists have found a very promising new antibiotic called teixobactin among many thousands of soil bacteria.
A reported in Nature last week, tests in mice have shown it to be effective against many infections that have become resistant to antibiotics, such as Streptococcus aureus and Streptococcus pneumoniae, and with no toxic side effects. Teixobactin works in a similar way to vancomycin by attacking lipid molecule cell walls but seems to be better protected from resistance than vancomycin, meaning it could have a run of several decades before disease-causing bacteria develop a way to beat it.
The way that teixobactin was found is also a breakthrough. Scientists know that soil contains loads of potentially useful bacteria but find that they are very difficult to culture outside of their natural soil environment, as each will have preferred, and usually unknown, growing conditions. The team from Northeastern University decided the only solution was to mimic a natural soil environment so they developed a way of sandwiching a sample of soil between two membranes. The perforated membrane allows nutrient molecules to pass through, but not cells.
By using this method, the research team found about 10,000 soil bacteria with potential, and teixobactin proved to be the most promising.
It will be about 2 more years of testing before teixobactin is ready for clinical trials, but the Northeastern University feel that there will be lots more to come from their already identified soil bacteria, like anti-cancer drugs, anti-inflammatories and immunosuppressants.
More at Smithsonian.com