Ancient Natural Antibiotic Production and Resistance Discovered

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A recent study from McMaster University has revealed new details about the evolutionary history of antibiotic production and resistance and dates their existence as far back as 350 to 500 million years.

Peculiar study with great importance

This study is the first whoever put antibiotic biosynthesis and resistance into an evolutionary context and the discoveries that were made will help guide the future development of new antibiotics and alternative which are the medicine that is vitally needed given the actual global threat of antimicrobial resistance.

Gerry Wright, senior author of the study and professor of the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at McMaster said: “Our findings are of significant interest”.

“Our study reveals several implications in how we could potentially manage antibiotic use and find new drugs for antimicrobial infections,” he adds.

How it was done

The scientists deducted this history by first identifying the genome sequences encoding all of the necessary genetic programs for the production of glycopeptide antibiotics within a type of bacteria named Actinobacteria. Glycopeptides include vancomycin and teicoplanin, which are essential in treating bacterial infections.

Afterwards, researchers plotted the changes in these genetic programs over time, thus revealing that while the precursors for the genes that are responsible for antibiotic production date back to a billion years ago, resistance is contemporary with the production of the first kinds of vancomycin – like drugs, which date back to 350 to 500 million years.

It’s believed that the study will have a great impact on the current antibiotic crisis.

“These compounds have been useful to bacteria on the planet even before dinosaurs appeared, and resistance co-evolved with production as a means of self-protection for producing bacteria. The use of vancomycin in modern times in medicine and agriculture has resulted in the movement of resistance from these innocuous producers to disease-causing bacteria over a few short decades,” said Nicholas Waglechner


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