Just as we teeter over the edge into a post-antibiotic world, scientists have made a concrete discovery: a new line of bacteria growth.
Previously, labs have only succeeded in cultivating about 1% of bacteria. But researchers at the Northeastern University of Boston, MA, have developed what could be described as a subterranean petri dish: it keeps microbes in place while allowing soil to work its unique and vast properties.
Examining the microbes from the unearthed gadget, scientists found 25 new antibiotics, 1 of which has potential for use in humans.
It’s called teixobactin, and it has passed through early tests. It works on gram-positive bacteria like MRSA, but not gram-negative bacteria like e. coli, and early studies suggest it’s non-toxic to humans. For the first time in 27 years, researchers hope to cultivate more microbes and discover more possible antibiotics.
Teixobactin still has to undergo human trials—at least a five year venture. But we may only be 3 or so years out from experiencing dramatic medical upheaval due to antibiotic resistance. In the UK overprescription of antibiotics is on the up, and in the US antibiotics are still widely used in ranching. Both practices feed antibiotic resistance and are creating new MRSA like superbugs.
Will new antibiotics like teixobactin just be stalling the inevitable? Part of the excitement around teixobactin is that it attacks bacteria in a novel way, focusing on fat in cells walls—something that will be very hard for bacteria to evolve around. But we’ve heard these theories before, and previous antibiotics dubbed impervious to antibiotic resistance lasted only 30 years, and that’s with limited use.
Stopping the overuse of antibiotics is critical to their continued existence. When animals are no longer fed preventative antibiotics, MRSA tends to disappear. But it’s just as important to limit their use in hospitals and nursing homes, where other superbugs like antibiotic resistant pneumonia (CRKP) developed. If we aren’t careful with any newly discovered antibiotics, we’re just postponing things by a decade or so.
Although this could be a great discovery, it’s important that researchers continue the other lines of antibiotic research in development, including virus based antibiotics, and even research into nano silver, which is embraced as an alternative in many other countries, and even used to help stop the spread of MRSA in many hospitals.
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