May 28, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Bacteria as a Vast Unexplored Medicine Chest

Most of our therapeutic agents have been derived from bacteria.  A new survey shows we have barely tapped the surface of potential medicines beneath our feet.

Science Daily reported on a study of three desert soils from California, Arizona and Utah published in the May issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.  A team from Howard Hughes Medical Institute found “greater diversity of potentially useful products than was previously supposed” in the biosynthetic genes of soil bacteria, implying that “environmental bacteria have the potential to encode a large additional treasure trove of new medicines.”  The article explained where most of our medicines come from:

Natural compounds have been the sources of the majority of new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, 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.

It seems that researchers will not soon run out of material to investigate: “the genomes of environmental bacteria could encode many additional drug-like molecules, including compounds that might serve, among other things, as new antibiotics and anticancer agents.

When you think of bacteria, do you think of health?  Maybe findings like this will help end a kind of microbial racism.  A few bad ones should not create bias against the majority that work hard to create a better world.

This survey also suggests that bacteria originally had a useful function in the Creation paradigm.

 

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