New insights into the production of antibiotics by bacteria

July 31, 2015, Leiden University
New insights into the production of antibiotics by bacteria
An antibiotic-producing colony.

Bacteria use antibiotics as a weapon and even produce more antibiotics if there are competing strains nearby. This is a fundamental insight that can help find new antibiotics. Leiden scientists Daniel Rozen and Gilles van Wezel published their research results in the authoritative Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA on 28 July 2015.

Antibiotics as weapons in nature

The Leiden scientists discovered that in nature, too, antibiotics act as a weapon against rival bacteria. This seems logical, but remains controversial, because the concentrations in the soil appear to be far too low to act as a weapon against other bacteria. Rozen, Van Wezel and colleagues made the discovery by measuring the activity of thirteen strains of the antibiotic-producing bacterium Streptomyces. They looked at how strains behaved in nutrient-rich as well as nutrient-poor soil. They found that in soil with few nutrients and competing bacteria nearby the Streptomycetes start to produce more antibiotics in order to protect the food sources available. Computer simulations showed how the strains enter into a lot of 'social interaction' in a nutrient-rich environment, allowing the exchange of genetic material and the creation of new bacterial variants.

Awakening antibiotics

Apart from the fundamental question, it also offers important new insights into the search for new antibiotics, say Rozen and Van Wezel. 'The Streptomyces bacteria are able to produce the antibiotics we seek, but they will not do this automatically. You have to, as it were, awaken the antibiotics in the bacteria by stimulating them in the right way. This research shows how the can be stimulated to produce antibiotics by growing them in the presence of competing strains.'

Antibiotics important for combating diseases

Antibiotics are an important substance for combating diseases, but pathogens are becoming increasingly resistant to existing antibiotics. The research into new carried out by Gilles van Wezel, Professor of Molecular Biotechnology, is linked to the research at Leiden University which is aimed at developing new drugs. For more information, please consult the research dossier on Effective Drug Development.

Explore further: Antibiotic resistance is a gut reaction

More information: PNAS Early Edition Monica I. Abrudan, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1504076112

Related Stories

Antibiotic resistance is a gut reaction

December 16, 2014

Scientists from the Institute of Food Research and the University of East Anglia have discovered how certain gut bacteria can protect themselves and others in the gut from antibiotics.

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

EPA adviser is promoting harmful ideas, scientists say

March 22, 2019

The Trump administration's reliance on industry-funded environmental specialists is again coming under fire, this time by researchers who say that Louis Anthony "Tony" Cox Jr., who leads a key Environmental Protection Agency ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.