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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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The CDC Makes It Official: Public Pools Are Disgusting
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Every summer, warm weather sends people across the country looking for a cool refuge in public pools, hotel pools, spas, and other water-based destinations. Before you take the plunge, you may want to heed the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Jumping into a publicly-populated pool could be like bathing in someone else’s diarrhea, as Men’s Health reports.

The health agency revealed its findings in their Mortality and Morbidity Report, which explains why pools are ground zero for bacteria. Between 2000 and 2014, the CDC traced 493 outbreaks and over 27,000 cases of illness that could be connected to exposure to a public pool. The primary culprit was Cryptosporidium, a parasite found in feces that causes intestinal distress. The determined little bugs can survive for up to seven days after encountering the CDC’s recommended levels of one to three parts per million (PPM) of free chlorine. Even if the pool is being cleaned and maintained properly, Cryptosporidium can idle long enough to infect someone else. The report also indicated that Legionella (which causes Legionnaire’s disease) and Pseudomonas (responsible for ear infections and folliculitis) were found in some of the pools.

The problem is likely the result of swimmers entering the pool while suffering from an upset stomach and leaving trace fecal matter behind. The CDC recommends that you not enter a public pool if you feel unwell, that you ask for a pool inspection report if you’re concerned about the hygiene of the facility, and that you absolutely not swallow any water. The agency also recommends that any pool owner who has experienced a “diarrheal incident” in their water opt for hyperchlorination to kill bacteria.

[h/t Men’s Health]

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People With Type A Blood Are More Prone to Severe Diarrhea
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Bad news for people with type A blood who also love to eat at buffets: A new study spotted by Science News reveals that people with this particular blood type have a significantly higher risk of contracting severe diarrhea from a common bacterial pathogen.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine discovered that a protein secreted by a strain of Escherichia coli latches onto sugar molecules that are only found within the blood cells and intestinal lining of people with type A blood.

For the study, 106 healthy volunteers drank water that contained a strain of the bacterium E. coli—one of the major causes of infectious diarrhea around the world. Only 56 percent of volunteers with blood types O and B contracted moderate to severe diarrhea, but 81 percent of volunteers with blood types A or AB fell ill. All participants were later given antibiotics.

Researchers say these findings, which were published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, could aid the development of an effective vaccine. Developing parts of the world are particularly susceptible to E. coli contamination, which causes millions of infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, researchers note.

As anyone who has ever had "Delhi belly" can attest, this is also a concern for people who travel to developing regions. The main causes of E. coli infection are contaminated food and water, so it's wise to regularly wash your hands and avoid eating raw produce and undercooked beef while traveling.

[h/t Science News]

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