Quirks & Quarks

Digging a New Antibiotic out of the Dirt

A new technique to culture antibiotic-producing bacteria leads to a new drug and promises more discoveries.
Sometimes science involves getting your hands dirty. (M Tullottes)
Antibiotics are one of the great success stories of modern medicine, but few new ones have been developed since the 1960's, and many pathogens are evolving resistance to those. Now, a team led by Dr. Kim Lewis, a professor of biology from Northeastern University in Boston, has discovered a new and potentially very effective antibiotic, using a technique that may open the door to even more new drugs. Many antibiotics come from soil bacteria that produce active molecules to fight each other. But easily cultured soil bacteria had been mined out in the first decades of discovery. So Dr. Lewis and his group developed a technology for growing bacteria that had previously been un-culturable, and thus opened up huge diversity of new species of bacteria that can be studied for their chemical creativity.

Related Links

Paper in Nature
News & Views in Nature
- Northeastern University release
Nature news story
CBC Newsstory
- Smithsonian Magazinestory