CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--MIT biologists have provoked soil-dwelling bacteria into producing a new type of antibiotic by pitting them against another strain of bacteria in a battle for survival.
The antibiotic holds promise for treatment of Helicobacter pylori, which causes stomach ulcers in humans. Also, figuring out the still murky explanation for how the new antibiotic was produced could help scientists develop strategies for finding other new antibiotics.
The work is reported in the February issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
A combination of luck, patience and good detective work contributed to the discovery of the new antibiotic, according to Philip Lessard, research scientist in Professor Anthony Sinskey's laboratory at MIT.
Sinskey's lab has been studying Rhodococcus, a type of soil-dwelling bacteria, for many years. While sequencing the genome of one Rhodococcus species, the researchers noticed that a large number of genes seemed to code for secondary metabolic products, which are compounds such as antibiotics, toxins and pigments.
However, Rhodococcus does not normally produce antibiotics. Many bacteria have genes for antibiotics that are only activated when the bacteria are threatened in some way, so the researchers suspected that might be true of Rhodococcus.
Kazuhiko Kurosawa, a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Biology, decided to try to provoke the bacteria into synthesizing antibiotics by placing them in stressful environments. He tried turning the temperature up and down, then altered the bacteria's growth medium, but nothing worked.
Kurosawa then decided to stress the Rhodococcus bacteria by forcing them to grow in the presence of a competing bacteria, a strain of Streptomyces. Streptomyces produces an antibiotic that normally kills other bacteria, but in one of the experimental test tubes, Rhodococcus started producing its own antibiotic, which wiped out the
|Contact: Elizabeth Thomson|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology