A tool to combat superbugs has been found deep inside the desert | MarketingwithAnoy

And there are undoubtedly many more bacteria out there that could provide us with useful new antibiotics to use. But if you find what appears to be promising, the next step is to entice it to generate sufficient amounts of antibiotics for analysis – and this can be a real challenge.

Antibiotic discovery “is often hampered by low yields,” says Laura Piddock, scientific director of the Global Antibiotic R&D Partnership (GARDP) in Geneva. Plus, sometimes a bacterium will have the potential to produce useful substances, but “the genetic machinery is turned off so no antibiotic is made,” Piddock adds.

Knowing this, Dyson and his collaborators decided to take the tRNA gene from the fast-growing desert bacterium and add it to conventional Streptomyces bacteria already used to make clinical antibiotics. The team’s hypothesis was that the gene from the fast-growing bacterium would leave the antibiotic production of these other bacteria – which is exactly what happened. The modified bacteria produced antibiotic compounds in two to three days – about half the time it normally takes conventional Streptomyces arter.

These findings, published in the journal Nucleic acid research, could be extremely useful in the hunt for new treatments. If researchers find a new bacterium that appears to generate something that could be used as medicine but does not produce quite a lot of it (as is often the case), there is a tool to potentially make it much more productive. “I am convinced that this is a very simple strategy that needs to be integrated into any new antibiotic detection program,” says Dyson.

Piddock agrees. Getting bacteria to produce larger amounts of antibiotics “will be of great interest to researchers in this field” and have a positive impact on human health, she says. “This should enable them to discover new antibiotics that could form the basis of new drugs to treat infections.”

This is good news, like right now World Bank considers that antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development. According to an alarming UN report 2019If measures are not taken to combat these widespread superbugs, 10 million people a year could die from drug-resistant diseases by 2050. As for the increased use of antibiotics during the pandemic (to protect Covid-19 patients from secondary infections), drug resistance is rising.

Resistance occurs when bacteria are repeatedly exposed to antibiotics and develop ways to resist them. The phenomenon is exacerbated and accelerated by the abuse and overuse of antibiotics in both humans and domestic animals – also when humans take antibiotics against viral diseases (they only work against bacteria), and when otherwise healthy domestic animals get them for disease prevention.

“It is impossible at any point to completely stop AMR, as it is a natural phenomenon, but the speed and threat can be mitigated and controlled,” said Hatim Sati of the World Health Organization’s Antimicrobial Resistance Division.

Dyson’s desert bacterium is a species that could help, but there are plenty of others that are adapted to extreme environments that can also offer a way out. These organisms, called extremophiles, have been isolated from some of the Earth’s most inhospitable sites: underwater volcanoes, deep sea fungiand in the middle of the sand on driest place on earth. These habitats have intensely high or low temperatures, pH, pressure or salinity or combinations of all of these.

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