New Superantibiotic is an Microbebusting Megaweapon

first_imgStay on target Microbiologist Makes Colorful ‘Game of Thrones’ Sigils Art With BacteriaOil-Eating Bacteria Found in World’s Deepest Ocean Trench We may soon have a soon last-line antibiotic — vancomycin 3.0. Earlier versions were developed as far back as the 50s and have helped lead the fight against bacteria. The microbes have been fighting back, though, and hard. There are now more than a dozen types of antibiotic-resistant diseases, and we need new weapons in this war, fast. And that’s just what vancomycin 3.0 is for.Researchers are calling this new drug a “superantibiotic,” and it may be one of our biggest breakthroughs in the field in some time.Antibiotics are among the most important healthcare discoveries ever. With them, we can cure thousands of diseases. You can ask anyone who’s ever had strep throat and been prescribed amoxicillin just how quickly you can feel better once you’ve taken the first dose. These really are miracle cures — wonder drugs that have saved and will continue to save millions of lives… unless bacteria evolve faster than we can make counters.AdChoices广告Historically (by which I mean over the past few hundred million years), bacteria and fungi have been at war with one another. Mushrooms, just like you and I, can get bacterial infections and die. But the way fungi have developed along their evolutionary branch has given them a host of natural chemicals that are hyper-toxic to bacteria. For the past few decades, humans have been harvesting them for our own use. With them, we were able to all but eliminate deaths from major infections like staph.In our excitement, however, we’ve used far, far too many antibiotics and the microbes have developed near-immunity to even our most potent drugs. By synthesizing and mega-producing these chemicals, we’ve given the little fellas plenty of time to evolve counter-measures. It didn’t help that doctors, patients, and even ranchers have been extraordinarily cavalier with these substances, too. Doctors prescribe them too often, patients often don’t finish their scrip, and ranchers will give their livestock high-grade drugs that we’re supposed to hold back for critical, antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. The practice has created some terrifying new superbugs that we have little other defense against. That’s why vancomycin 3.0 is so important.But it goes a step further here. V3, as I’ve just decided to call it, isn’t just an upgraded antibiotic. That, as we’ve discussed, wouldn’t be that useful for long. In a few years’ time, we’d be giving it to cattle and swine and soon after start seeing the first resistant bugs. No, instead, V3 attacks bacteria in three different attack vectors at once, making it the antibacterial equivalent of a small nuke.The three-pronged attack is special because it means that even if a bacterium can handle one, it probably won’t survive all three. This dramatically cuts the odds that we’ll see future superbugs that can handle V3, which means we’ve bought other researchers more time to work on more permanent solutions to the bacteria problem with CRISPR or phages both of which, while powerful tools, will need a lot more research to bring to market.In the mean-time, scientists will be testing V3 to make sure it’s safe. First in animals, then humans — as always. But scientists are really confident they’ve leaped ahead of the microscopic competition.“Organisms just can’t simultaneously work to find a way around three independent mechanisms of action,” researcher Dale Boger told Science Magazine. “Even if they found a solution to one of those, the organisms would still be killed by the other two.”Boger worked directly on one piece of V3. His group worked out of the Scripps Research Institute in California. After that team discovered how they could, essentially, re-engineer vancomycin to be toxic to bacteria once again, other groups discovered that slight changes to the formula would still interfere with the basic functioning of bacterial cells. Then, all it took was to bring them all together into one chemical.Initial tests are stunning. Because bacteria reproduce so fast, they evolve very quickly. After just a few rounds of treatment, antibiotics generally won’t work. V3, however… oh V3… after 50 rounds, none of the bacteria had developed resistance.“What could possibly make this story better?,” I hear you asking. Well, we also largely produced this compound by working backward from what we already know works. Most antibiotics are discovered largely by trial and error. This represents a concerted effort to engineer a bacteria-killing mega-weapon from the ground up, and damn does it look promising.last_img read more