A new bacterial genome sequence suggests a route to new antibiotics, and other valuable drugs. As bacteria learn to evade antibiotics, even minor infections can become a major threat. There is an urgent need for new antibiotics to tackle resistant bacteria.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing public health problem. Seventy per cent of known antibiotics come from the soil bacteria Streptomyces , including erthyromycin and tetracyline. Bacteria and fungi make antibiotics as a form of crude chemical warfare against one another - and only with the advent of penicillin did we find a way of applying this to our own health. Researchers at the Sanger Centre - genome headquarters - have recently announced the solving of the Streptomyces genome - the biggest and complex, bacterial genome solved to date.
The Streptomyces genome has already revealed many new genes that are involved in antibiotic synthesis. This opens up the way to the discovery of many new antibiotics. Streptomyces also makes potential anti-cancer drugs, and immune-suppressants.
Incidentally Streptomyces is also quite similar to the microbe that causes tuberculosis. So this research may reveal insights into the biology of this important disease, which still poses a major threat to humanity.