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Scientists Make Antibiotics from Bacteria Found in the Human Body

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We’ve all got hidden potential within us. Some of it is apparently hidden very, very deep: scientists have used bacteria found in the human body to create two powerful new antibiotics. They described their work in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

The search for new antibiotics has become something of an arms race between researchers and the bacteria they’re trying to kill. The more antibiotics we use, the faster bacteria become resistant to our drugs, and the more pernicious their infections become. If we don’t come up with some new solutions soon, we’ll be facing a world awash with dangerous superbugs and no cures.

So drug researchers at The Rockefeller University have started thinking outside the box. Rather than building new pharmaceuticals from the ground up, they’ve been looking for them, well, in the ground, investigating natural materials like soil and sand in the hopes of finding a new bacteria-slaying tool.

One team of researchers at the university has set their sights ever so slightly higher, tapping not only the dirt but the bacteria-covered organisms that walk it. And by organisms, we mean people. Our bodies are crawling with bacteria, inside and out. Who knows what those little critters can do?

To find out, scientists from the Laboratory of Genetically Encoded Small Molecules decided to conduct a thorough search of the human microbiome (the collective term for the microscopic ecosystems sharing our bodies). They tapped into public microbiome databases, searching for gene clusters that could make molecules called non-ribosomal peptides (NRPs). NRPs have a lot of different skills. Some produce toxins, while others produce pigment. Others kill bacteria.

The search yielded 30 different NRP-making gene clusters, which the team then recreated in the lab. They set their newly grown clusters to work and coaxed them into producing 25 different chemical compounds. The team then pitted those compounds against various human pathogens to see if any could win. Two compounds, both derived from microbes in the genus Rhodococcus, succeeded. The researchers dubbed these new antibiotic contenders humimycins (from “human,” “microbiome,” and “mycin,” a common suffix for antibiotics).

The new humimycins were especially tough on Staphylococcus and Streptococcus bacteria (commonly known as staph and strep)—two pathogens known for overcoming and growing resistant to other drugs. Not only did the humimycins work on their own, but they also proved to be pretty good at breaking down the bacteria’s drug resistance so that other antibiotics could get in there and finish them off. 

Combining these new compounds with existing drugs could be the secret to shutting infection down, lead researcher Sean Brady said in a statement. “It’s like taking a hose and pinching it in two spots," he said. Even if neither kink can stop the flow of water on its own, “eventually, no more water comes through.” 

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Why Your Pet's Food Bowl Might Be One of the Grossest Things in Your Kitchen
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Although the well-worn sponge remains king of the germ colonies in an average kitchen, pet food bowls are giving them a run for their money, as Kitchn reports. According to public safety evaluators NSF International, pet bowls are among the filthiest surfaces in a home, harboring yeast, mold, and bacteria like E. coli. Yet most owners don’t wash them very often, mistakenly believing that dry foods don’t leave residue behind or that pets have a sturdy enough constitution to deal with the festering gunk.

Of the 30 objects that were swabbed for the study of 22 homes, pet bowls won out as the fourth germiest, not far behind kitchen sponges and dish rags, kitchen sinks, and toothbrush holders. The problem, according to veterinarian Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, is that germs like salmonella that linger in food and water bowls can cause illness in both pets and their owners. This is particularly true for the immunocompromised and children. The bowls pose a health risk for everyone in the household, and the only way to mitigate it is with regular cleaning.

Bowls should be cleaned with soapy water once daily and sanitized once a week. The latter includes soaking in bleach or running the bowls through high temperatures in a dishwasher. If you feed your pet a raw food diet, you might want to consider washing after each use or using disposable bowl liners that can be discarded after every meal.

According to Dr. Vogelsang, dry kibble is usually run through high heat during manufacturing, but it’s no guarantee that all bacteria has been eliminated. You also want to stick with stainless steel or ceramic bowls, as cracks in plastic can harbor germs.

While you’re at it, give food placemats a wash and your pet’s toys a good soak. Coupled with keeping your toilet lid down, the extra effort should minimize your pet’s exposure to bacteria that could make you both sick. Getting your dog to stop eating poop? That's another story.

[h/t Kitchn]

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The Prehistoric Bacteria That Helped Create Our Cells Billions of Years Ago
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We owe the existence of our cells—the very building blocks of life—to a chance relationship between bacteria that occurred more than 2 billion years ago. Flash back to Bio 101, and you might remember that humans, plants, and animals have complex eukaryotic cells, with nucleus-bound DNA, instead of single-celled prokaryotic cells. These contain specialized organelles such as the mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouse—and the chloroplast, which converts sunlight into sugar in plants.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts both look and behave a lot like bacteria, and they also share similar genes. This isn’t a coincidence: Scientists believe these specialized cell subunits are descendants of free-living prehistoric bacteria that somehow merged together to form one. Over time, they became part of our basic biological units—and you can learn how by watching PBS Eons’s latest video below.

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