Image: MRSA. Credit: MichaelTaylor / Shutterstock.com

The discovery of penicillin’s bacterial fighting power in 1928 was a game changer. For the first time in history, infections could be fought with more effective medicinal weaponry than bloodletting, leeches, and crossed fingers. Like never before, we could really fight back. Unfortunately, that is all changing. Our power to treat infection is slipping from our hands. What’s worse, so many of us are completely oblivious to the situation and are helping perpetuate the problem.

For the most part, resistance occurs because not all microbes are killed by treatments. Some of the stronger ones (sometimes, somehow) survive, and they ultimately become even stronger after the treatment as they develop additional resistances. This happens because of a particular mutation within the bacteria that gives it an edge against the treatments being administered. Unfortunately, the mutated bacteria that survive will then multiply into a separate, now resistant, population.

We add to this problem by doing things like not finishing our antibiotics (which enables more bacteria to survive), by over sanitizing (which provides more opportunities for resistance), over medicating livestock etc. However, a new drug may help change the landscape of antibiotic resistance. 

The drug is called Teixobactin. And it has been shown to kill 100% of the bacteria that it comes into contact with. No survivors means no mutations. No mutations means no antibiotic resistance, which is great news for us (not so great news for the bacteria).

Ultimately, the key to the drug's success is that it prevents microbes from being able to construct their cell walls. If there are holes in your cell walls, it means certain death. The researcher who discovered this response notes the significance of this method of attack, describing it as an "Achilles’ heel" for bacteria. The scientist, Tanja Schneider from the University of Bonn, stated, “It would take so much energy for the cell to modify this, I think it’s unlikely resistance will appear this way.” Similarly, lead researcher, Kim Lewis, stated, "My guess is that if resistance is going to develop against Teixobactin, it will take more than 30 years for that to occur."

The team published their results in Nature today.

Of course, this is not a "fix all." Unfortunately, it doesn’t work against Gram-negative bacteria. Teixobactin only works against bacteria that lack outer cell walls (which are known as Gram-positive bacteria). However, as previously mentioned, it does kill 100% of these. And as Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology from the University of Edinburgh in the UK, told Sarah Knapton at The Telegraph:

“Any report of a new antibiotic is auspicious, but what most excites me about the paper is the tantalising prospect that this discovery is just the tip of the iceberg. Most antibiotics are natural products derived from microbes in the soil. The ones we have discovered so far come from a tiny subset of the rich diversity of microbes that live there.

Lewis et al. have found a way to look for antibiotics in other kinds of microbe, part of the so-called microbial 'dark matter’ that is very difficult to study.”

This find is also notable as it is the first class of antibiotic to be discovered since 2000.


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