Under The Sea, Scientists Find Bacteria For New Antibiotics

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Nearly 3 million people in the United States have suffered from an antibiotic-resistant infection and more than 35,000 people have died from it, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Thankfully, researchers from the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena in Germany have cultivated several dozen types of marine bacteria, which could potentially be used to create new antibiotics. The research was published this week in the journal Nature Microbiology.

What did the researchers find?

A team of scientific divers and diving robots looked for a specific type of marine bacteria in 10 locations. The marine sites included the Mediterranean, North, the Baltic and Black seas; as well as the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. 

The desired bacteria called Planctomycetes “live in communities with other microorganisms and compete with them for habitat and nutrients," said microbiologist Christian Jogler, Ph.D. and leader of the study. Because they have to compete for survival, Planctomycetes naturally produce antibiotic compounds to use in the fight against other bacteria. 

With the bacterial samples collected, the divers were able to successfully create 79 new pure cultures of Planctomycetes. 

The new strains were analyzed for their ability to create smaller molecules, like antibiotics. Scientists also studied the complexity of the cells, another indicator of antibiotic production. 

"The results of these analyses show that the newly obtained Planctomycetes have extraordinarily complex lifestyles and have the potential to produce new antibiotics," said lead author Sarah Wiegand, PhD

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Why does this matter?

The need for new antibiotics is on the rise, as mentioned above, but fewer than one percent of known bacterial species are available for search, according to the study. Until now, the remaining 99% were often deemed impossible to cultivate. 

This study suggests that otherwise “non-cultivable” bacteria might actually be worth looking into. 

What’s next for the research? 

The authors of the study said their findings have potential to help other antibiotic producers. The innovation and willingness of the authors to examine substances often overlooked can open doors to further research. 

“Exploration beyond the well-established model organisms has the potential to increase our knowledge of bacterial diversity,” the authors wrote. 

This study is promising for the millions who suffer from antibiotic-resistant infections.

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