A Way Out of Our Antibiotic Crisis?
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A petri dishWith the advancement of biomedical science, you may find it hard to believe that we’re only able to grow less than one percent of all bacteria. That’s a big problem because growing and studying bacteria is how we discover antibiotics. And finding new antibiotics is vital if we’re to save the millions who’ll die from drug-resistant bacteria.

Scientists study microbes to learn how they defend themselves. Bacteria secrete compounds that allow them to outcompete other microbes. But if we can’t grow the billions of bacteria in the environment, how are we to harness their potential?

But there’s a new device offering a game-changing solution – the iChip is a hard piece of plastic with 192 tiny wells. Researchers dip the iChip in a bacterial sample mixed with agar to trap one in each well. The iChip is placed into a larger sample from the bacteria’s natural environment, for example, soil. That’s the key… these microbes are able to grow in their own environment which then allows us to observe how they behave.

Researchers were able to grow never before cultivated microbes from a wide range of sources, including wastewater, saliva, marshes, and mud. Remarkably, an iChip grown in the soil from a field in Maine yielded a new class of antibiotics called Teixobactin. The antibiotic looks promising because of its unique ability to thwart antibiotic resistance.

Since many our antibiotics came from studying bacteria, imagine the possibilities of this technology. Scientists believe iChip will have applications beyond medicine as we find novel chemicals, new energy sources, and even technologies we haven’t thought of.

For more information…

An Iconoclastic Researcher Makes a Badly Needed Antibiotic Breakthrough
Great story about Slava Epstein, PhD, of Northeastern University and his path to the iChip and the discovery of new antibiotics

New Antibiotic from Soil Bacteria
Layman-friendly article about the original research report on the characterization of Teixobactin

Antibiotics: An irresistible newcomer
Nice story of the discovery of new antibiotics from uncultivable bacteria