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Biological Chemistry

Anthrax Slayer From The Deep

Novel natural product from marine bacterium effectively takes out bioterrorism agent

by Bethany Halford
July 1, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 26

To fight anthrax infections, patients must often endure a prolonged course of antibiotics, with treatment lasting up to six months. Because the bacterium that causes this infection, Bacillus anthracis, has been used as a bioterrorism agent, scientists have been vigilant about seeking better anthrax antibiotics. Now, chemists led by William Fenical of the University of California, San Diego, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography have found one. In marine sediments off the California coast, Fenical’s team identified a bacterium and extracted compounds from it. One proved to be a potent killer of both B. anthracis and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, another deadly bacterium (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. 2013, DOI: 10.1002/anie.201302749). The researchers isolated and determined the structure of the compound responsible for the antibiotic activity, naming it anthracimycin. Anthracimycin has an unusual structure, with a fused ring system and an enolized β-diketone. The researchers believe that the anthracimycin structure may represent an important new class of bacteria-fighting compounds.


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