Dirt Could Help Fight Superbugs

By Mark Barna | June 13, 2018 12:00 pm

(Credit: Shutterstock)

About 23,000 Americans die each year due to a bacterial infection resistant to antibiotics. Since 2010, the number of children infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics has increased sevenfold.

In recent years, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics led to the superbug phenomenon, in which bacteria that cause illness and disease become resistant to medicines. That makes it harder to treat conditions like pneumonia and food-related illnesses.

Now, a group of researchers are looking for the next antibiotic — in dirt. A paper published in Nature Wednesday discusses using microorganisms in soil to combat superbugs. Soil bacteria have rarely been explored for use in antibiotic research.

In 2014, soil samples were collected from a meadow at the Angelo Coast Range Reserve in Northern California. Jillian Banfield, a microbiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues examined dirt-dwelling microbes, which produce metabolites, used to develop antibiotic medicines.

The team concluded that microorganisms in dirt have potential in the fight against superbugs. The organisms’ diverse genes can effect secondary metabolite biosynthesis, from which antibiotics are created.

“These organisms may represent a source of natural products that can address needs for new antibiotics and other pharmaceutical compounds,” the authors write.

Besides antibiotics, microbial products also include pigments, alkaloids, and toxins.

  • Maia

    Heathy earth/soil/dirt is good for children to play in for many reasons, true, but it’s also good for adults to get their hands into (unpoisoned) soil regularly, too! This isssociated with lower rates of serious allergies, infection and even depression. Probably substances made by bacteria, maybe other microbes. Just a reminder: glyphosate/Roundup kills broadleaf plants (“weeds”) with a mechanism capable of killing baceria as well, by targeting an enzyme pathway common to both.

  • ECarpenter

    ” children who have become resistant ” – that’s just sloppy writing. The children are not resistant to antibiotics, the bacteria which infect them are resistant to antibiotics. This kind of writing can lead less informed readers to think that people can somehow become antibiotic resistant, which is not true. This is not the first article here I’ve seen this in.

    Seriously, Discovery, your editors need to catch this stuff if your writers are this ignorant.


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