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Discovery of new antibiotic which bacteria cannot resist
The growth of resistance of bacteria to antibiotics has outstripped the development and introduction of new antibiotic compounds, leading to a public health crisis with the rise of multidrug resistant ‘superbugs’. However, a study published this week in the journal Nature describes a new antibiotic called teixobactin, derived from growth of uncultured bacteria. The results of this study, from researchers in Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, the University of Bonn in Germany, NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Selcia Limited in the United Kingdom, offers hope of a new source of resistance-free antibiotics, as uncultured bacteria comprise approximately 99% of all bacterial species in external environments.

Most antibiotics currently available were produced by screening of cultivable soil microorganisms. However, this is a finite resource which according to the authors of the current study was essentially already over-exploited by the 1960s. Researchers on this study have been involved in developing novel methods for growing uncultured bacteria by cultivating them in situ or using specific growth factors. The work in this field by Northeastern University researchers and study authors Professor Kim Lewis and Professor Slava Epstein resulted in the founding of NovoBiotic. Their methods involve a miniature device called the iChip, which Prof Epstein's team created in order to isolate and help grow single cells in their natural environment. This has greatly improved the access of researchers to uncultured bacteria. The work has resulted in NovoBiotic assembling approximately 50,000 strains of uncultured bacteria and discovery of 25 new antibiotics. Prof Lewis says that teixobactin is the latest and most interesting of these.
In the current study, the researchers discovered that teixobactin inhibits bacterial cell wall synthesis by binding to lipid II and lipid I, which are precursors of the bacterial cell wall components peptidoglycan and teichoic acid respectively. Testing of teixobactin on mutant Staphylococcus aureus or Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains did not reveal any mutants that were resistant to the antibiotic. Prof Lewis said: "Our impression is that nature produced a compound that evolved to be free of resistance. This challenges the dogma that we've operated under that bacteria will always develop resistance. Well, maybe not in this case." The team now hope to develop teixobactin into a drug.
According to Gerard Wright, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at McMaster University who was not involved in this research, it may yet prove that as yet unidentified mechanisms of resistance to teixobactin exist in the environment. In a separate Nature article published alongside the research article Prof Wright comments that nevertheless, the team's work could lead to identifying "other 'resistance-light' antibiotics…(The researchers') work offers hope that innovation and creativity can combine to solve the antibiotics crisis."

Ling LL et al. A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance. Nature (2015); doi:10.1038/nature14098
Wright G. Antibiotics: An irresistible newcomer. Nature (2015); doi:10.1038/nature14193

Press release: Northeastern University; available at
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