Undiscovered Antibiotics: The Secret Weapon in Soil
Most of us are aware that the weapons we rely on to fight dangerous and highly infectious bacteria are becoming increasingly ineffective. Many diseases we treated easily and quickly in the past are becoming much harder to deal with as we run out of effective antibiotics. Introducing soil: an unlikely hero. To date, the most effective antibiotic compounds have been isolated from bacteria residing within soil. However, most soil bacteria cannot be grown artificially in a lab, as they require a complex set of nutrients to survive. This is a major restriction for research involving the discovery of new antibiotic compounds. One method of solving this problem is to grow soil bacteria in their natural environment, instead of in a lab. The iChip (or isolation chip) is a device that is loaded up with soil bacteria and buried in soil, providing the bacteria with all of the nutrients they require to grow. Compared to standard lab-based culturing techniques, the iChip allows for the recovery of a wider variety of soil bacteria, many of which produce antibiotic compounds that have never been isolated before. My research focused on determining the effectiveness of the iChip and using it to expand the limited repertoire of antibiotics effective against Clostridium difficile, a species of bacteria that is rife in hospitals and causes life-threatening inflammation. My hope is that the iChip will allow microbiologists to discover many new antibiotic compounds that will aid in the battle against the global antibiotic resistance crisis.
Hi there! I’m a third-year Microbiology student born and raised in the suburbs of Glasgow. During my time at university I have developed an interest in antimicrobial resistance: how it arises, how it affects us and how we can fight it. The World Health Organisation has predicted that by the year 2050 drug-resistant microorganisms will be causing 10 million deaths every year, which is more than all types of cancer combined. As someone fascinated by the Big Problems of biology, the prospect of pursuing a career in research involving antimicrobial resistance was irresistible. Last summer I completed a research project where I attempted to isolate new antimicrobial compounds from bacteria that live in soil. Although I was unfamiliar with this area of research before completing my project, it has led me to pursue an integrated Master’s degree with a group that specialises in identifying and isolating antimicrobial compounds produced by soil bacteria.