Support Provided ByLearn More
Body + BrainBody & Brain

New Antibiotic Found in Bacteria from the Vaginal Microbiome

ByTim De ChantNOVA NextNOVA Next

Researchers announced yesterday that they had discovered a new molecule that could be a promising antibiotic capable of killing Staphylococcus aureus , a bacteria that can cause dangerous skin infections. That’s good news, especially since drug resistance among harmful bacteria is evolving at a rapid pace. But what makes this molecule unique is it’s source—our bodies.

Microbiologists have long suspected that new classes of drugs—antibiotics in particular—could be lurking in our microbiomes, where various bacteria duke it out for dominance of a particular niche.

Support Provided ByLearn More

This new molecule, called lactocillin, was discovered in a sweep of a database containing genes culled from our microbiome. Michael Fischbach, a microbiologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and his team then traced the genes responsible for lactocillin back to bacteria living in the vagina.

Erika Check Hayden, reporting for Nature News:

“We used to think that drugs were discovered by drug companies and prescribed by a physician and then they get to you,” Fischbach says. “What we’ve found here is that bacteria that live on and inside of humans are doing an end-run around that process; they make drugs right on your body.”

Fischbach’s team then purified one of these: a thiopeptide made by a bacterium that normally lives in the human vagina. The researchers found that the drug could kill the same types of bacteria as other thiopeptides — for instance, Staphylococcus aureus , which can cause skin infections. The scientists did not actually show that the human vaginal bacteria make the drug on the body, but they did show that when they grew the bacteria, it made the antibiotic.

Fischbach told Check Hayden that, at the current time, he’s not interested in turning lactocillin into a bonafide drug. Instead, he’s going to continue plumbing the depths of these huge databases of microbiome genes, hoping to find even more intriguing and promising candidates.

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

Photo credit: Riccardoariotti/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY)