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Antibiotics Found in Soil May Help Fight Superbugs

Many of us know that highly trained chemists are researching and developing new disease treatments every day.

However, you may be surprised to learn that about half of the pharmaceuticals we use today come from natural sources. These drugs come from or are patterned after natural compounds from plants, animals, microbes and even fungi.

One of the best-known examples is aspirin. It evolved from a substance found in the bark and leaves of the willow tree! It’s been reported that ancient Greeks used willow leaf tea to ease the discomfort of child birth!

Now Mother Nature may be the source of a new type of antibiotic. One we may be able to use to fight some of today’s antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections — so called superbugs.

Scientists in New York were studying microorganisms found living in dirt. The soil samples were contributed by people from all across our nation. The researchers were looking for microorganisms with a unique gene that makes it harder for microbes to develop antibiotic resistance.

During their research, the scientists discovered a new type of antibiotic extracted from microorganisms living in the dirt. This new type is known as malacidin. These antibiotics may fight superbugs without triggering resistance.

This isn’t the first time soil has yielded a valuable antibiotic. Streptomycin, which can treat tuberculosis and even plague, was developed from a microbe that was originally found in the soil of a farm field in New Jersey!

As researchers explored the properties of malacidins, they found they could kill superbugs such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates MRSA and other superbugs claim about 23,000 lives per year.

Scientific study found malacidins fight superbugs by interfering with the way they build their cell walls. Since human bodies use different processes to build our cells, malacidins don’t hurt us.

Although this discovery is promising, it’s important to note that a lot of science is involved in making new antibiotics such as malacidins ready for public use. The last time a new antibiotic was introduced for use by humans was in the 1980s.

Even as we discover new antibiotic advances, it’s important to make sure we don’t overuse antibiotics. Their overuse can result in more malicious organisms developing resistance to antibiotics.

Fortunately, we can all take some simple, practical steps to reduce the potential need for antibiotics. If you use an antibiotic, follow the instructions carefully.

If you have questions about antibiotics and when they’re appropriate, discuss it with your health care clinician. You can request a convenient appointment online.

Meet the Author

Jill A. Holz, DO is a family physician at Aurora Health Center in Hartland, WI. 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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