Scientists Unearth Hope for New Antibiotics

In a bag of backyard dirt, scientists have discovered a powerful new group of antibiotics they say can wipe out many infections in lab and animal tests, including some microbes that are resistant to most traditional antibiotics.

Researchers at Rockefeller University in New York reported the discovery of the new antibiotics, called malacidins, on Monday in the journal Nature Microbiology.

It is the latest in a series of promising antibiotics found through innovative genetic sequencing techniques that allow researchers to screen thousands of soil bacteria that previously could not be grown or studied in the laboratory. To identify the new compounds, the Rockefeller researchers sifted through genetic material culled from 1,500 soil samples.

“We extract DNA directly out of soil samples,” said biochemist Sean Brady at Rockefeller’s Laboratory for Genetically Encoded Small Molecules, a senior author on the new study. “We put it into a bug we can grow easily in the laboratory and see if it can make new molecules—the basis of new antibiotics.”

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