Scientific community is abuzz with the latest discovery of the antibiotic Teixobactin by a team of scientists from Northeastern University, led by Kim Lewis. Rightly so, since it is a new class of antibiotic discovered in decades and the best part is, it was found to be resitant to resistance which is the foremost problem plaguing the medical field right now.
It can kill important rogue bacteria such as B.anthracis(causes anthrax), C.difficile(causes severe diarrhoea) and M.tuberculosis(causes TB) but doesn’t act on gram negative bacteria such as Pseudomonas, E.coli and Klebsiella.
Teixobactin kills bacteria by preventing them from building their outer coats. Losee Ling from NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals and Tanja Schneider at the University of Bonn showed that it works by withholding two molecules namely- Lipid II and Lipid III which the bacteria needs for making their cell wall and to maintain its integrity.
Perhaps the most important part of the discovery is the technology itself, which was used to discover it- iChip. As Ed Yong puts it, “Teixobactin is a fish; the iChip is the rod. Having the rod guarantees that we’ll get more fish —and we desperately need more.”
Soil is replete with environmental bacteria, which are a rich source of potential new antibiotics but the most pressing concern was their inability to grow in laboratory conditions. iChip technology has just solved that problem.
Its just a chip with several holes in it. The team collected soil, shook it in water to release any microbes in it thereby heavily diluting the sample, they then mixed it with liquid agar, and poured it into the iChip. At such a high dilution, only one bacterial cell was contained in each hole/disc, held in place by the solid agar. These discs were covered with permeable membranes on either sides and dunked into the original soil again(figure).
The bacteria were still contained in the agar, but they could now soak up nutrients, growth factors and every other ingredient needed for their growth from their natural environment. Thus, they recreated the original environment and even the most stubborn bacteria, now grew. Using this technology, they discovered a novel class of antibiotics which could easily kill Staphylococcus bacteria(cause of MRSA). They called it Eleftheria terrae which yielded the newly discovered antibiotic Teixobactin.
The team is now working on getting an FDA approval by testing on other animals and they are also aiming to make the antibiotic more soluble. It looks like iChip is here to stay and hopefully will help us identify even more potent antibiotics.