Mining bacterial genomes reveals valuable 'hidden' drugs

Aug 01, 2010
After changing their regulatory mechanisms, Streptomyces bacteria produce colorful new molecules. Credit: Marco Gottelt

A new tool to excavate bacterial genomes that potentially hide a rich array of pharmaceutical treasures has led to the discovery of a novel antibiotic. The study, reported in the August issue of Microbiology, could lead to new treatments for serious diseases that are rapidly acquiring multi-drug resistance.

Scientists from the University of Groningen in The Netherlands successfully used a 'genome mining' approach to find and activate a group of genes in the bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor. This resulted in the production of a new antibacterial compound that was effective against several , including Escherichia coli.

Streptomyces is a common that is well-known for its antibiotic-producing capabilities. In 2002, genomic sequencing of one Streptomyces species, S. coelicolor, revealed several groups of genes whose function was unknown. By digging deeper and removing a molecule that specifically inactivates one of the mystery gene groups, known as cpk, the researchers in this study were able to 'awaken' the genes, to find that they produced the new antibiotic, in addition to a bright yellow pigment.

This is the first time a genome mining approach to has been successfully used in Streptomyces. "The strategy is a powerful and innovative way of searching for new antibiotic production capabilities in bacteria," said Dr Eriko Takano who led the study. "As bacterial infections previously considered as mild and easily curable are suddenly becoming lethal and completely unresponsive to all existing medication, it is crucial that new antibiotics are discovered at a sufficiently rapid rate," she said.

The same approach for 'awakening' new antibiotic production pathways could also be used to tap other micro-organisms, such as filamentous fungi, for sources of biologically active compounds. Aside from antibiotics, these compounds may include other antimicrobials or antitumour agents. "There are several thousand other uncharacterized groups of genes that have been found recently in microbial genome sequences. This opens up a rich treasure trove of new potential drugs for clinical use," explained Dr Takano.

Explore further: Tricking plants to see the light may control the most important twitch on Earth

More information: “Deletion of a regulatory gene within the cpk gene cluster reveals novel antibacterial activity in Streptomyces coelicolor”, DOI:10.1099/mic.0.038281-0

Provided by Society for General Microbiology

4.8 /5 (6 votes)

Related Stories

Potential treatments from cryptic genes

Jun 02, 2008

Big pharma gave up on soil bacteria as a source of antibiotics too soon, according to research published in the June issue of Microbiology. Scientists have been mining microbial genomes for new natural products that may ha ...

Engineered bacterium churns out two new key antibiotics

Feb 18, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- In recent years, scientists have isolated two potent natural antibiotics — platensimycin and platencin — that are highly effective against bacterial infection, including those caused by the most dreaded ...

Decoy makes sitting duck of superbugs

Dec 04, 2007

Scientists from the John Innes Centre have proven that by taking a short stretch of DNA from a bacterium and delivering it with an existing antibiotic they can switch off antibiotic resistance.

Cloning techniques produce FDA-approved antibiotic

Nov 27, 2006

The successful synthesis of an antibiotic in a non-native host has provided a team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with the potential for developing new treatments for bacterial infections.

UTIs becoming harder to treat

May 17, 2010

Genes that make bacteria resistant to antibiotics can be transferred between humans and other animals, say researchers writing in this month's issue of the Journal of Medical Microbiology. The findings will help health expert ...

Recommended for you

Getting a jump on plant-fungal interactions

Jul 29, 2014

Fungal plant pathogens may need more flexible genomes in order to fully benefit from associating with their hosts. Transposable elements are commonly found with genes involved in symbioses.

The microbes make the sake brewery

Jul 24, 2014

A sake brewery has its own microbial terroir, meaning the microbial populations found on surfaces in the facility resemble those found in the product, creating the final flavor according to research published ahead of print ...

User comments : 0