A fundamentally new antibiotic, teixobactin, has been discovered, that may be useful against MRSA and other Gram-positive bacteria. It works in mice. A good thing, since antibiotic resistance is increasing common, while pharmaceutical companies don’t have much interest in developing antibiotics, since they are curative.
The methodology is what’s really interesting. Kim Lewis and Slava Epstein sorted individual soil bacteria into chambers of a device they call the iChip, which is then buried in the ground – the point being that something like 98% of soil bacteria cannot be cultured in standard media, while in this approach, key compounds (whatever they are) can diffuse in from the soil, allowing something like 50% of soil bacteria species to grow. They then tested the bacterial colonies (10,000 of them) to see if any slammed S. aureus – and some did.
I get the impression that many people believe that these bacteria cannot be cultured – the word “unculturable” is often used. Actually, although they have not been grown in the lab, that hardly means it is impossible to do so: it’s just that that no one has figured out how. Microbiologists, over the years, have figured out the special dietary requirements of many organisms. With honorable exceptions like Lewis’s work, advances in this area seem to have slowed down.
I could be wrong, but I wonder if part of the explanation is that microbiology – the subject – is in relative decline, suffering because of funding and status competition with molecular biology and genomics (sexier and less useful than microbiology) . That and the fact that big pharma is not enthusiastic about biological products.