Sniffing out a new antibiotic

We have become reliant on antibiotics for treatment ever since their discovery in 1928 when Sir Alexander Fleming “accidentally” stumbled upon penicillin. Because bacteria can replicate and pass on stronger genes, it has amalgamated to the problem we are currently facing: antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The race to find new and novel antibiotics is on. Discoveries of new antibiotics are often made with the help of soil samples; but researchers in Germany have found a different answer, one right under our noses. 


Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium that has become stronger over time and has started to adapt to, and resist the antibiotics known to destroy it. In their research, the team of scientists in Germany found that 30 percent of the people in their sample had a weak version of Staphylococcus aureus in their noses, raising the question of why the other 70 percent weren't affected. What they discovered was that another bacterium, Staphylococcus lugdunensis, was producing its own antibiotic to keep away the staph bacteria. 


The researchers isolated the antibiotic and named it Lugdunin. In testing the newfound discovery by infecting the skin of mice with Staphylococcus aureus, most cases resulted in the clearing of the bacteria when treatment was applied. Andreas Peschel, one of the researchers involved, pointed out in that, “For whatever reason it seems to be very, very difficult [...] for Staphylococcus aureus to become resistant to Lugdunin, which is interesting." 


If Lugdunin can easily handle Staphylococcus aureus, then the hope is that it can take care of the problem posed by MRSA. 


Having infectious bacteria that are unable to adapt to a certain antibiotic would be a boon to the human race. However, human tests with the antibiotic have not yet been conducted. Moreover, it's also possible that the antibiotic could be lethal to humans. Kim Lewis and Philip Strandwitz, two scientists at Northeastern University in Boston, are concerned about Lugdunin’s effects on humans, but still noted that the discovery can help further research and development on antibiotics.


Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming a reality. For example, as indicated in a BBC article published in late May of 2016, a woman did not see improvement in her health after being treated with Colistin where Colistin is often used as the last resort. A social and scientific concern is that we may gradually be seeing an end to antibiotics given that certain bacteria are slowly becoming immune. Although the woman's bacterium was vulnerable to other antibiotics, it’s only a matter of time before resistances to other antibiotics are passed on as well. The thought of not being able to be treated with antibiotics anymore seems frightening.  


However, if the Lugdunin discovery leads to further knowledge of where other antibiotics can be found, then the fight lives on. For now, hopefully, the answer will have been right under our noses.

Forecasted start year: 
2019 to 2022


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