To find these molecules, Brady and his colleagues have been using a culture-independent discovery platform that enables them to extract, clone, and sequence DNA from soil samples without having to grow bacteria in the lab.
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.
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. The clearing up of the infection was noted within a day of use. The team's research has been published in Nature Microbiology.
Malacidin is short for metagenomic acidic lipopeptide antibiotic-cidins. Also, "mal" means bad in Latin, and "cide" means to kill.
Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics, or they are given out unnecessarily.
Malacidin appears to work differently than daptomycin, which was introduced in 2003 and has yet to be challenged by resistant bacteria. They noted that the bacteria, failed to develop resistance to this new agent despite continuous exposure. "I think this platform gives us some hope that we can go back to this tremendously powerful reservoir we used to look at in the past, and look at it in new ways and find new things", he said. Even after 20 days of continued contact with malacidin, which is more than enough time for most bacteria to find a way to resist an antibiotic's powers, the MRSA bacteria in the rats showed no signs of evolving resistance.
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Some 700,000 people die each year from such infections, with global deaths expected to reach 10 million by 2050 due to antibiotics resistance. As a result, the new antibiotic managed to kill drug-resistant skin infections in animals. This new antibiotic that is resistant to antibiotic resistance may be the key.
Researchers from Rockefeller University discovered the compounds, which are called malacidins, while analyzing more than 1,000 soil samples from across the United States.
The hunt for new antibiotics is benefiting from recent technological advances which make it easier to rapidly comb the DNA of different soil organisms, which are otherwise hard to raise in a petri dish. They noted a sample from the desert regions that fitted the bill.
Study author Professor Sean Brady from The Rockefeller University in NY, said: 'Topical administration was successful in sterilising MRSA-infected wounds in a rat model.
Brady's team was looking for genes that code for calcium-dependent antibiotics, a small family of cyclic peptides that require calcium for their activity.