Scientists in the medical community have been struggling with the problem of finding ways to circumvent bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Because of the rapid rate with which bacteria mutate and reproduce, entire populations are able to quickly and effectively evolve to resist common medication prescribed by doctors, such as penicillin, making said medication virtually useless. This immunity is forcing scientists to look for new and innovative ways of developing antibiotics.
Enter Kim Lewis and his team at Northeastern University. Until recently, scientists were only able to analyze about one percent of microbes in the soil for potential antibiotics because only one percent can be cultivated under lab conditions. However, Lewis’s team was able to create a device called the iChip, which mimics natural conditions, allowing microbes that have never been studied before to thrive in a lab.
Among the bacteria they studied is a strain called E. terrae, which produces an antibiotic called teixobactin. Teixobactin works by targeting the cell walls of surrounding bacteria, weakening them until the bacteria burst and die. Since the synthesis of a cell wall is a fairly static genetic process, resistance could likely be avoided for up to 30 years.
While this development is promising for the future of antibiotics, teixobactin is not infallible. Bacteria can be divided into two classes: gram-negative, and gram-positive. Teixobactin is effective in killing only gram-positive bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria, such as E. coli, have an additional membrane over their cell walls, protecting them from teixobactin’s protein inhibition.
All that said, teixobactin still has to go through more trials, including human ones, and likely won’t be on the market for several years. So in the meantime, keep washing your hands.