A whole new kind of antibiotic

Nature celebrates the discovery of a dirty new weapon in the war against antibiotic-resistant pathogens:

An antibiotic with the ability to vanquish drug-resistant pathogens has been discovered — through a soil bacterium found just beneath the surface of a grassy field in Maine. Although the new antibiotic has yet to be tested in people, there are signs that pathogens will be slow to evolve resistance to it.

Today in Nature, a team led by Kim Lewis of Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, report that the antibiotic, which they have named teixobactin, was active against the deadly bacterium MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) in mice, and a host of other pathogens in cell cultures.

Many of the most successful antibiotics were found in the mid-twentieth century by scientists who trawled microbial communities for bacteria capable of killing their brethren. But the researchers missed the type that produces teixobactin, Eleftheria terrae, plus many other potential candidates — known collectively as microbial ‘dark matter’ — because of their reluctance to adapt to life on a petri dish.

Lewis and his Northeastern colleague Slava Epstein discovered E. terrae‘s potential with a device they call the iChip. It works by sorting individual bacterial cells harvested from soil into single chambers. The device is then buried back in the ground.