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Scientists beefed up the antibiotic arsenal

Researchers synthesized new molecules, turned to nature to find others

by Bethany Halford
December 13, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 49

The battle between infectious bacteria and humans continued to rage in 2016, with the humans possibly coming out ahead as two groups of researchers managed to revitalize our antibacterial armaments—one by making new macrolide compounds, and the other by mining for them in our noses.

Chemists in Andrew G. Myers’s group at Harvard University figured out how to multiply macrolide munitions with a fully synthetic approach that allows them to make previously inaccessible versions of these compounds characterized by a central ring of typically 14, 15, or 16 atoms (Nature 2016, DOI: 10.1038/nature17967). The Harvard chemists, in collaboration with Macrolide Pharmaceuticals, have used the strategy to make nearly 1,000 fully synthetic macrolides so far. Many of these, Myers tells C&EN, have unprecedented activity against Gram-negative pathogens, including Escherichia coli and Klebsiella that are resistant to several antibiotics currently in use.

Meanwhile, a team led by University of Tübingen microbiologists Andreas Peschel and Bernhard Krismer sifted through the bacteria in our nostrils and discovered a compound that kills Staphylococcus aureus. The molecule, a novel thiazolidine-containing cyclic peptide named lugdunin, is made by another Staphylococcus bacterium, S. lugdunensis, which prevents S. aureus from colonizing about 70% of human noses. Lugdunin represents a new antimicrobial class and is the first to come from a bacterium that lives primarily in people (Nature 2016, DOI: 10.1038/nature18634). The finding could spur scientists to look elsewhere in our bodies for new weapons to fight bacterial invaders.


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