Written by Emily Majorkiewicz
Shortly before the start of Antibiotic Awareness week, a national one-week observance event in November to raise awareness about growing antibiotic resistance, a new breakthrough regarding antibiotic resistance came to light. Antibiotic resistance, which refers to the rapid evolution of bacteria against mainstream antibiotics, has been a rising problem since its widespread use began over 60 years ago. While the majority of antibiotics are used in animal husbandry, antibiotic resistance has been an issue observed in hospitals in areas around the world where antibiotic usage is especially prevalent [2, 4].
It is not known exactly when and where antibiotic resistance began, but various modes of gaining such resistance have been identified. For instance, several genes within bacterial genomes have been found to spontaneously generate phenotypes resistant to antibiotics. These genes are then amplified to create resistance . Such bacteria, which have become ultra-resistant to the antibiotics once used to treat them, are known as superbugs. These superbugs are now responsible for infecting over 2 million people in the United States alone . Given this information, there is an urgent necessity to control the current distribution of antibiotics and discover new ones.
In 2015, one lab headed by L.L. Ling was the first to report a newly identified antibiotic, known as teixobactin, that inhibits the creation of a cell wall, thus hindering the growth of different bacterial families . Following this report, A. Parmar led a group of scientists from multiple universities to discover how teixobactin could be used to kill certain superbugs. After closely studying this antibiotic, these researchers realized that enduracididine, a rare amino acid initially believed to be necessary for teixobactin synthesis, was not needed to achieve the same level of potency against resistant bacteria . Instead, two different amino acids could be used to synthesize teixobactin with much simpler and faster methods, cutting production time significantly. All of these modifications were accomplished without losing the initial effectiveness of the antibiotic .
While this new take on a recently discovered antibiotic offers a potential solution for combating superbugs, bacteria are likely to eventually form resistance against new antibiotics such as teixobactin as well. For now, the best way to combat antibiotic resistance is to manage the antibiotics that are currently available for use. Minimizing antibiotic usage will lower the odds that a mutation arises, therefore decreasing the likelihood that selection for a antibiotic-resistant gene within bacteria occurs. Although antibiotic resistance will continue to be a problem, minimization of antibiotic usage and other careful management of currently available treatments may be able to slow the problem.
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2. Davies, J., Davies, D. 2010. Origins and Evolution of Antibiotic Resistance. Microbiol Mol Biol Rev. 74(3): 417-433.
3. Ling L.L., Schneider T., Peoples A.J., Spoering A.L., Engels I., Conlon B.P., Mueller A., Schäberle T.F., Hughes D.E., Epstein S., Jones M., Lazarides L., Steadman V.A., Cohen D.R., Felix C.R., Fetterman K.A., Millett W.P., Nitti A.G., Zullo A.M., Chen C., Lewis K. 2015. A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance. Nature. 517(7535): 455-9.
4. Mevius, D., Hellebrekers, L.J. 2010. Antibiotics in animal husbandry: a thorny problem. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 154(45): B628.
5. Parmar, A., Iyer, A., Prior, S.H., Lloyd, D.G., Goh, E.T., Vincent, C.S., Palmai-Pallag, T., Bachrati, C.Z., Breukink, E., Madder, A., Lakshminarayanan, R., Taylor, E.J., Singh, I. 2017. Teixobactin analogues reveal enduracididine to be non-essential for highly potent antibacterial activity and lipid II binding. Chem Sci.
6. “Stop the Spread of Superbugs.” National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 14 July 2017.