It’s a known fact that antibiotic resistance is becoming a public health concern. Despite penicillin only having been introduced to the general public in the 1940s, the bacteria being fought against have developed defense mechanisms in order to prohibit the antibiotic from taking its intended effect. The method of screening soil microorganisms to develop new antibiotics were overmined in the 1960s, and synthetic approaches taken after that have been unable to successfully replicate natural results.
And yet this potential public health crisis only has continued to worsen. Already, there are at least 2 million cases of infection and 23,000 deaths in the United States caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria or “superbugs,” and those numbers are only expected to increase. Scientists report that the death toll could rise to as many as 10 million by the year 2050 if we don’t find an alternative to the already existing antibiotic options. The costs of attempting to combat this issue could cost as much as $8 trillion a year if we don’t find a viable substitute for existing antibiotics.
Without antibiotics, civilization essentially moves back in time. What we consider simple diseases could prove fatal, like they once were before the discovery of penicillin and others. Projected numbers may appear high, but even the World Health Organization weighed in to emphasize the severity of this problem, and declared society in a “post-antibiotic era – in which common infections and minor injuries can kill—far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century.”
Fortunately, scientists have discovered a new antibiotic called teixobactin that can do just that, and best yet, the scientists currently studying this antibiotic are speculating that it’s less likely to become resistant because it uses a different mode of attacking bacteria. Scientists at Northwestern University were able to identify this antibiotic by using a method that grows bacteria in its native soil rather than in a petri dish, and already, mice infected with MRSA have responded well when given teixobactin to combat the infection. Uncultured bacteria such as those in native soil thus far have been an untapped resource, despite the fact that they make up “99% of all species in external environments.”
While results are not completely conclusive yet, analysts are hopeful that teixobactin will not cause resistance, and could potentially be the solution we have been looking for. At any rate, this recent discovery has the potential to revitalize a field that truly needs some new energy.