An Antimicrobial Superhero

NDSU Microbiology
by NDSU Microbiology

Guest Blogger, Ellyn Hexum, VMS Undergrad

In my work as a CNA, a common site to see as I breezed past residents’ and patients’ closed doors were bright red, laminated stop signs with the letters MRSA printed boldly underneath. Unfortunately, caring for patients with active MRSA, or Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections was an everyday occurrence. The gowning up, the sanitizing, the gowning down, the re-sanitizing, has become a mundane task and practice in the field of healthcare as more and more pathogens are becoming resistant to treatments.

A world where antibiotics play little to no role in treating disease is a very real and scary possibility; however… a new “super biotic” has tied on his cape and is now preparing to change today’s world of antibiotic treatment for the better.

This hero emerged from the soil, isolated by an IChip, which is essentially a “bacteria sandwich.” This sandwich allows for the study of chemicals that are produced by the bacteria smooshed between the IChip layers. From the results of these chemical studies, scientists are able to identify any possible antibiotic properties present in a soil sample.

So far, 25 novel antibiotic cultures have been discovered; our hero was found in one of these and showed the most immediate promise. Teixobactin is the name of the drug; it is an antibiotic that kills bacteria by destroying bacterial cell walls (the primary structures for cellular protection). This detrimental effect on bacterial cell walls also halts all growth of new bacterial cells in an individual, meaning that Teixobactin promises that a current infection will not get any worse.

“But what makes Teixobactin so special?” you might ask. “Isn’t breaking down cell walls a common antibiotic mechanism?” The answer is yes, Teixobactin does facilitate a common destructive mechanism of many other antibiotic drugs as well as antimicrobial cleaners. However, what makes Teixobactin so special, and so promising to the future of antibiotics, is that this antibiotic appears to be “resistant to resistance.” In other words, Teixobactin has been shown to treat known resistant bacterial infections, such as MRSA in mice.

In a world teetering on the edge of a “post antibiotic era” - our hospitals filled will MRSA patients, our medical professionals stuck in the merry-go-round of treating symptom after symptom because there is no known cure for increasingly common infections – there is a hero on the horizon. The wind of his cape is slowly beginning to stir the stagnant field of antibiotic research, and it could mean a new world of healthcare in which the “good guys” will always have the upper hand. Has antibiotic resistance been solved? The only way to know is to wait and see, and with a promising discovery like this…it isn’t hard to be optimistic.

Image 1: NIH

Image 2: CDC

This entry is part of the MICR 354 (Scientific Writing) student-blog series.