Newly Discovered Antibiotic is a Bacterial Triple Threat

By Carl Engelking | January 7, 2015 2:35 pm


In the fight against infectious bacteria, humans are slowly losing the battle. That’s because common pathogens are developing resistance to the antibiotics we use to wipe them out. By 2050 it’s expected that, globally, drug-resistant infections will kill more people than cancer.

However, the fight is far from over. Researchers have discovered a potential new class of antibiotic that’s a triple threat: it obliterates many types of drug-resistant bacteria, it’s safe in mammals, and enemy cells weren’t easily able to develop resistance to it. And the microbes that produce it were discovered in the soil of one of the study authors’ backyards.

Digging in the Dirt

Through billions of years of evolution microbes have evolved to produce a variety of antibiotics to battle their fellow bugs. And in the past, studying chemicals excreted by microbes has been a fruitful path to discovering new antibiotics. But astonishingly, microbiologists only work with about 1 percent of the microbial species found in the wild; the other 99 percent are finicky and refuse to grow in the lab. That’s part of the reason researchers haven’t discovered a new class of antibiotics in almost 30 years.

In this latest study, the scientists found a clever workaround. They collected soil samples and used a device called an iChip to isolate single strains of bacteria. Then, rather than raising them in the lab, researchers put the bacteria back in the ground to replicate. They screened more than 10,000 of these isolated bacteria samples to see how they performed in battling Staphylococcus aureus. And the runaway winner — a bacteria named Eleftheria terrae — was found to use teixobactin as its secret weapon.

Molecular Triple Threat

Teixobactin wages an attack against the cell walls of targeted bacteria to kill them. It’s the same method of extermination used by another antibiotic called vancomycin, which was discovered in 1953. Vancomycin was an old stand-by, but bacteria resistant to vancomycin eventually emerged about 40 years after its discovery. However, the specific way teixobactin attacks its enemies’ cell walls led researchers to believe it’s unlikely that bacteria will develop resistance to teixobactin in 40 years — if at all.

As encouraging as teixobactin was in the petri dish, the true test was whether it could perform safely in an animal. Researchers gave mice a nearly fatal infection of a drug-resistant form of MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). An hour after infection, they injected mice with a dose of teixobactin, and every single treated mouse survived. Researchers published their findings Wednesday in the journal Nature.

A Dose of Hope

The discovery of new antibiotics has stalled in recent decades, so teixobactin is a welcome newcomer to a beleaguered field. However, we won’t know whether teixobactin will emerge as a champion until rigorous clinical trials are performed in the future.

Regardless, researchers’ new method of growing and studying previously unculturable soil bacteria is a new twist that could reignite the search for novel antibiotics. In fact, researchers believe there are many more antimicrobial candidates hidden in the dirt.

Scientists will just need to get their hands dirty to turn the tables on our microbial foes.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • Paul Horning

    Will the medical profession protect this ‘new’ family of anti-biotics?
    Nah. 25 years and we’ll be in the same boat again. Looking for another miracle.

    • Justin Preston

      You must have missed the part about teixobactin being resistant to resistance (couldn’t help myself). Check out paragraph 5.

      • eirikr1

        or just because the article stated that it appeared Resistance-proof, (without any explanation or cite how that could be so..) doesn’t mean everybody is “buying” it. Microbes were here long before man, and they will be here long after man is gone.

        Wasn’t there some other breakthrough claiming to be resistance proof that was promptly cultured along with a resistant strain when the inventors bragged??

    • BruinInSeattle

      this is science, not religion. no miracle necessary. in 25 years there will be something else.

    • Joe Smith

      Maybe we can keep the agricultural industry from using it to fatten up swine and cattle. That would help a lot.

  • JackT

    Nowhere does this article describe how teixobactin is a “triple threat”.

    • James

      Sure it does, right in the second paragraph, ” it obliterates many types of drug-resistant bacteria, it’s safe in mammals, and enemy cells weren’t easily able to develop resistance to it”

      • kzintius

        Context clues are hard.

      • JackT

        Ahh so it does.

      • BruinInSeattle

        I think that’s poorly constructed. Being safe in mammals and enemy cells not easily building resistance don’t complement the notion of a threat. Rather, it fulfills the three primary needs of an antibiotic, perhaps, but a triple threat would seem to infer the drug attacks the disease in three different ways. In this instance, context is a round peg seeking a square hole. sure, there are two commas delineating three concepts, but they hardly fit the idea.

        • sinet

          I learn English as a second language, so it is a bit hard for me to understand but I do agree with BruinInSeatle.

        • JWrenn

          Well think about it in a military terms…like c4. You can use it safely in volatile situations without it killing you. That makes it much more threatening to the enemy because of how you can deliver your payload. In fact this drug would not be a threat at all to any of the infections in humans if you couldn’t use it in mammals so…really out of the 3 it is kind of the most important in this context.

        • Mohamad Salahaldin

          Thanks, I agree with you. This was description of the drug properties rather than mechanism of action as being “triple threat”.

        • ImUrOBGYN .

          We get it. The author’s writing isn’t perfect. Did you miss the point of the article? If not, then perhaps we can agree to simply move on and/or focus on the actual point of the article.

  • LeLeMans

    And here’s your FDA for you. We have a new drug that could possibly eliminate devastating diseases. It’s apparently (maybe) not going to kill you. You have a life-threatening bacterial infection resistant to everything. Your only chance at survival is being cured of this infection. Can we give you this new drug? OF COURSE NOT. We’re heartless, moron bureaucrats and you’ve just been Grubered.

    • Charity5712

      just as
      I’m dazzled
      that someone
      in 4 weeks
      on the computer
      . over at this website

    • tedb120

      I agree. One would think there would be a government funded “fast track” for something this important but of course this is not how the big slow FDA bureaucracy works. we can be the drug will be avaiable all over the world before the US…

      • Van Snyder

        There’s a reason that the alternative meaning of the FDA acronym is “Frantic Dithering Administration.”

      • gendotte

        There’s no money in it.

      • Hello?Really?

        FYI there is a FDA Fast Track program. Look it up and contribute to an informed discussion, not useless ranting

    • Eric Lipps

      And of course if it were given to you in a hurry, and you died, or went blind, or had some other horrible reaction–well, your relatives could sue for millions and go on Fox to blast the FDA for failing to protect their poor loved one, so it’s win-win, right?

      • WhoIsJohnGalt

        Go on Fox? More like a Nancy Grace type of story to me for a certain party of entitlement and big government protecting them from their own decisions and wanting zero accountability for their choices. Is there anything you libs don’t try to blame Fox for?

  • mike

    Hopefully this new break though will hold up until they use nana bots to do it.

  • Orawan

    Triple threat? My limited understanding is that antibacterial agents can work in many different ways: they can destroy cell walls, plasma membranes, interfere with transcription or translation, etc. If this drug affects bacterial cell walls, what are the other two mechanisms of action? Or is that not what is meant by triple threat? Just curious.

    • Danny Stowers

      I believe the author was using “Triple Threat” as a performing arts metaphor. Someone who can sing, dance, and act, is often referred to as a Triple Threat.

      • Orawan

        Thanks! Overthinking as usual.

  • Stefano Hetfield

    So, in the first link, you post the action methods of vancomycin, then you refer to the thing that is being mentioned in the article. I bet you’re anti-GMO

  • kmtominey44

    Well – bacteria are masters of evolutionary adaptation.

  • bensabio

    Just what may seem like a trivial comment, but responsible science writers should know that “bacteria” is always plural and never used with a singular predicate. Saying “a bacteria named Eleftheria terrae” is like saying “a dogs named Lassie” and makes a literate person’s skin crawl. The word you want is “bacterium.” Please!

    • Larry Etkin

      We live with an evolving language. Data vs. datum; bacteria vs bacterium, etc. The common element is what’s called the use of a collective noun. Journalism, even science writers, follow common usage to help common people comprehend. Bottom line, when it comes to getting information out to the “many,” let’s just not waste time quibbling.

      • bensabio

        The language evolves, but I don’t think “common people” are incapable of distinguishing singular and plural forms of nouns, even in Latin, if they are exposed to correct usage. Language is a fine tool that needs to be kept sharp to be useful, and “common people” understand this as well as do professional writers, if given the opportunity and example. It’s not a waste of time at all!! On the contrary. And you’ve confused this difference with the “collective noun” issue which pertains to the British use of collective nouns with plural verbs, differently from American usage: a great example of allopatric evolution! I think your argument is just an excuse for editorial laziness, which has no benefits for anyone. I’d say that the only way language evolves successfully is if established usage doesn’t give up without a fight!
        Or maybe “Lassie is a dogs” is just fine with you?

  • Van Snyder

    Many years ago, Peyton Manning, in a commercial, mocked somebody who had been hurt (but not injured), by saying “Rub some dirt on it.” Seems to have been good advice.

  • montana83

    FDA – That’s under Obama. He plays golf, spouts Marxist BS and takes $25 million vacations. He could care less. Two years to go, a $10 million Random House contract for his memoirs and $1 million speaking fees like the Clintons and he’ll really care about the downtrodden and poor then. What a clown.

    • Don

      Montana, I fail to see any connection to the political rant and the article? Is there any? other than the weak connection to a federal agency that was there under Regan, and Bush both and doesn’t mention how much vacation Bush took and how much was spent in doing so. I appreciate your right to have a political view, but it is portrayed one sided and inappropriately in my view.

      • Larry Etkin

        I agree completely with Don. Political rants from any side do not belong in a discussion about science.

  • wangweilin


  • Don

    Is this why many poor eat dirt, or does it help?

  • Annie

    Ummm, I think the point of this story is that the health of the SOIL is the most important thing in this world. They found this microbial in DIRT, where they say they have found others but as soon as people get their grubby lil hands on it and try to put it in a lab, isolate it so it can be PATENTED & TOXIFIED in pharmaceuticals, it loses its benefits. We dont need some drug company profiting from natures remedies all around us, all we need is freedom from pesticides, which leech minerals and healthy microbials from our soil, thus making them unavailable to our bodies. Most, if not all, drugs have active ingredients isolated from nature. Aspirin from willow root is one example. Ginger is another. But it all starts with healthy soil, as in this example. Eat organic and you are giving your body so many benefits from the start!!

  • David W

    Or we can slow the growth of resistant strains. There will come a point where there are no more solutions. We need to only use antibacterials as a solution, not a bandaid. I am glad that we have new options, but we need to dial it back.


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