Feeds

MRSA-stomping antibiotic discovered

Hospital superbugs could be defeated by African soil

The next step in data security

Doctors may have a powerful new weapon in the battle against deadly drug-resistant bugs. A compound isolated from South African soil samples offers potency against all the big hospital killers.

Research funded by drug giant Merck screened over 250,000 chemicals for antibiotic activity. The international team, reporting in Nature, hit upon a small molecule they called platensimycin, after Streptomyces platensis, the species of soil bacteria that makes it. Some bacteria release their own antibiotics to gain advantage in the competition for resources.

Platensimycin works to kill bacteria in a way unlike any other antibiotic, and is one of only three new classes of the drug discovered since the goldrush of the 40s and 50s.

The new drug exploits a vulnerability in how disease-causing bacteria build the membrane that surrounds their cells. It knocks out a key enzyme in the process. Tests proved its effectiveness against NHS pariah MRSA, which claimed more than 1,000 lives between 2003 and 2004*.

When antibiotics were discovered in the first half of the 20th century, doctors kicked off an evolutionary “arms race” with bacteria. By hitting them with powerful drugs, at first they could kill all, or nearly all, the microbes of an infection.

The key word there is nearly.

The problem for modern wards dealing with the threat from MRSA and other antibiotic “superbugs” is that in some of those early bacterial populations, there were a few individuals that, thanks to genetic quirks, would not be killed.

The strong artificial selection (intentional or unintentional modification of a species through human actions), combined with the bacteria's sheer numbers and super-quick time between generations (as little as 20 minutes in optimum conditions), meant they were quickly able to evolve tricks to cope with increasing doses and novel drug formulae.

Lately, it seemed as though bacteria had gained an unassailable upper hand in the tussle. Many of the big pharma firms have pulled back from antibiotic discovery programmes, apparently having made the call that evolution had made it too difficult to be financially viable. Thousands of drugs don't make it to market and sit, unusable, in company compound archives.

Experts naturally urge caution on platensimycin; it's only been tested in mice so far. It will be several years before it could appear on hospital pharmacy shelves.

The array of clinical compounds currently used are essentially small variations on a few themes, so a totally novel stick to beat the bugs with is important, potentially life-saving news. ®

*1,168, Office of National Statistics.

New hybrid storage solutions

More from The Register

next story
PORTAL TO ELSEWHERE scried in small galaxy far, far away
Supermassive black hole dominates titchy star formation
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.