Genes culled from desert soils suggest potential medical resource

May 21, 2012

Despite their ecologic similarity, soils from three geographically distinct areas of the American southwest harbor vastly different collections of small, biosynthetic genes, a finding that suggests the existence of a far greater diversity of potentially useful products than was previously supposed. The research is published in the May issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Natural compounds have been the sources of the majority of new drugs approved by the US , and bacteria have been the biggest single source of these therapeutically relevant compounds. Most bacterially-derived antibiotic and anticancer agents were discovered by culturing bacteria from environmental samples, and then examining the metabolites they produce in laboratory fermentation studies. But the vast majority of bacterial species cannot be cultured, which suggested that the world might be awash in potentially useful, but unknown bacterial metabolites.

In this study, Sean Brady of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Rockefeller University, New York, NY, and colleagues extracted DNA from soils from the Sonoran Desert of Arizona, the Anza Borrego section of the Sonoran Desert of California, and the Great Basin Desert of Utah. They used this DNA to construct very large metagenomic DNA libraries, and screened these libraries for three of the most common classes of small molecule biosynthesis systems, type I modular polyketides, type II iterative polyketides, and non-ribosomal peptides, says Brady.

The investigators used PCR to amplify collections of gene fragments from each of the three libraries and compared these to assess the similarities and differences between the collections of genes cloned from each environment, says Brady.

"Our work suggests that the genomes of could encode many additional drug-like molecules, including compounds that might serve, among other things, as and anticancer agents," says Brady. "This is a small preliminary study that warrants additional investigations of more environments and more extensive sequence analysis, but it suggests that environmental bacteria have the potential to encode a large additional treasure trove of new medicines."

Explore further: Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

More information: B.V.B. Reddy, D. Kallifidas, J.H. Kim, Z. Charlop-powers, Z. Feng, and S.F. Brady, 2012. Natural product biosynthetic gene diversity in geographically distinct soil microbiomes. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 78:3744-3752.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Researchers develop novel method to find new antibiotics

Nov 20, 2006

Bacteria are a cunning foe; at a worrisome rate, they are developing resistance to the current arsenal of antibiotic drugs. Without new drugs, society may be approaching a world reminiscent of the pre-antibiotic era, when ...

Researchers help find natural products potential of frankia

Aug 03, 2011

Soil-dwelling bacteria of the genus Frankia have the potential to produce a multitude of natural products, including antibiotics, herbicides, pigments, anticancer agents, and other useful products, according to an article ...

Recommended for you

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

For resetting circadian rhythms, neural cooperation is key

Apr 17, 2014

Fruit flies are pretty predictable when it comes to scheduling their days, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk and rest times in between. Now, researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Cell Reports on April 17th h ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.

Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

People with accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the ...