Scientists in the United States have found a new family of antibiotics living in soil and early tests show they could be effective in killing several bacterial diseases that have become resistant to existing antibiotic treatments.
The compounds, called malacidins, have been shown to kill the superbug MRSA, which is caused by a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to many of the traditional antibiotics used to treat such infections.
Experts say the finding holds a huge amount of promise in the global fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At present, they are estimated to kill around 700,000 people every year.
Discovering new antibiotics in soil isn’t actually that rare. At any one time dirt is teeming with millions of different micro-organisms which produce an abundance of potentially therapeutic compounds, including new antibiotics.
A team at New York's Rockefeller University, led by Dr Sean Brady, has been busy unearthing them using a gene sequencing technique to analyse soil samples taken from all over the US. The team had a hunch that malacidins might be important when they found them in many of the soil samples they analysed.
Despite the potentially ground-breaking importance of the discovery, Dr Brady stressed there’s still a long way to go, saying:
"It is impossible to say when, or even if, an early stage antibiotic discovery like the malacidins will proceed to the clinic. It is a long, arduous road from the initial discovery of an antibiotic to a clinically used entity."