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Is the new class of antibiotics just discovered going to save modern medicine and the world as we know it?

If you're anything like me, you've grown up taking the existence of antibiotics, and all that their discovery brought with it, for granted. Things like not dying from a routine operation or a simple wound infection, things like organ transplants, made up an integral part of the world I grew up in. Antibiotics completely revolutionized medicine, and we went from marveling about them to taking them for granted too quickly.

By the time I was 10 years old, humanity had discovered the last class of antibiotics to be discovered in rather a while. A dance simultaneously complex and simple brought us to a place that altogether differs from the wonder people experienced when penicillin was first discovered. It was a dance involving doctors over-prescribing antibiotics, patients outright demanding them even when they're not needed, infection-prevention protocols not being followed properly in many medical institutions, microbes inevitably evolving, and, let's face it, all of us potential patients being far less careful with our bodies than we would in a world without antibiotics.

You've read headline after doom-and-gloom headline about a potential post-antibiotic world, yet two million people are infected with antibiotic-resistent bacteria annually in the United States of America alone, and that post-antibiotic world has already become reality for the 23,000 people who lose their lives because of superbug infections. Every year. In America alone.

It's a scary picture, and one we don't want to continue.

In this kind of pre-apocalyptic world, there's little more exciting than the news that the tide might be turning.

After almost 30 years, a new class of antibiotics has finally been discovered! A new class of antibiotics has been found that has already been shown to have the potential to fight so-called superbugs!

Will lugdunin Save Modern Medicine?

Researchers from the University of Tubingen in Germany, see the human body and its microbiome as a whole new frontier, a source of new antibiotics. The idea is that bacteria themselves may deploy antibiotics in the fight against other bacteria, as they compete for space within the body.

After swabbing and analyzing nasal bacteria from study participants, the research team — which published its findings in the journal Nature — found a strain of bacteria named Staphylococcus lugdunensis, which was incidentally found to co-exist with Staphylococcus aureus, among the most frequent to invade the nose, rather rarely.

Further investigating these bacteria and experimenting with genetically modified versions, the team eventually pinpointed the particular gene they needed to create the new antibiotic.

Called lugdunin, the new antibiotic has already been found to be effective at fighting superbugs such as MRSA in mice. While this absolutely doesn't mean that your nostril bacteria will be fighting deadly bacteria in a hospital near you any time soon, or even that it will be possible to create an antibiotic available for human use at all, the finding is — I think it's already fair to say — something that will go down in history.

Antibiotics were previously thought to come from soil bacteria and fungi alone. We now know that our previous knowledge was incomplete. The human microbiome is now an exciting new source of antibiotics yet to be discovered!

This may be the discovery that changes the world, on par with the discovery of penicillin. This may be the discovery that staves off that post-antibiotic world.

  • Photo courtesy of greggoconnell via Flickr: /
  • Photo courtesy of greggoconnell via Flickr: /

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