Kids, forget everything your pre-school teachers told you: Go play in the dirt all you like!
This month, scientists — after much hand-wringing and years of expensive drug development — plucked a promising new antibiotic from the ground. Not only is new-kid-on-the-block Teixobactin another tool to fight infections, it could be the first of an entire class of antibiotics that could save us from drug-resistant superbugs.
The researchers, who published their results in Nature last Wednesday, found the bacteria by isolating and domesticating 10,000 strains of microbes found in the soil. Teixobactin — which, like so many good things, apparently comes from “a grassy field in Maine” — was the most promising of the bunch. It managed to clear up a deadly MRSA infection in mice, and did so in such a way that the bacteria showed no signs of developing resistance.
In fact, this is not all new news. It turns out that most of the antibiotics we use today were cultivated from strains found in dirt — but this new technique uses the natural environment of the soil to grow bacteria that cannot be cultivated in a traditional lab culture. It could turn up hundreds of new compounds that could fight infections, even cancer, according to researchers.
Don’t get too excited: Though the new drug was a hit with the mice, it is still probably two years away from human trials, which will take another couple of years. It’s possible that the superdrug will have unforeseen consequences that make it dangerous to people as well as microbes. And some other scientists are skeptical about the claims that diseases will never develop resistance to Teixobactin and family: “The way bacteria multiply, if there weren’t natural mechanisms to limit their growth, they would have covered the planet and eaten us all eons ago,” infectious disease researcher William Schaffner told the New York Times.
I’m being told that hasn’t happened, so I guess we’ll have to wait to see just how wonderful this wonder drug really is, or what others are still hiding in the mud.