Scientists discover antibiotic produced by vaginal bacteria while exploring 'microbiome'
Scientist examining test tube specimen (Shutterstock)

A new study reveals that microorganisms inhabiting areas of almost all human bodies produce substances that could be used in a wide array of medications, from antibiotics to chemotherapy drugs. reported on a study published in the journal Cell, in which researchers announced that one vaginal microbe's power has been tapped to yield a new antibiotic medicine, Lactocillin.

Scientists say that they have only scratched the surface, however, when it comes to body microbes that produce useful compounds.

Nature quoted microbiologist Marc Ouellette, from the University of Laval's Hospital Centre (CHUL) in Quebec, Canada, who said the team who did the research has "shown that there is a huge diverse potential of the microbiome for producing antimicrobial molecules."

The study was published by a University of California, San Francisco team led by microbiologist Michael Fischbach. Fischbach and his team have been attempting to determine exactly how the teeming biome of bacteria that inhabit the human body affect our health. The relationship has so far proven to be highly complex and difficult to pin down.

The team began with a small group of molecules which they knew to produce substances that are useful as drugs. They then constructed a computer model designed to detect organisms in the human microbiome with similar genetic structures.

The computer returned thousands of results, some of which produce compounds that are markedly similar to pharmaceuticals that are already being tested in clinical trials, like a class of antibiotics called thiopeptides.

Fischbach told Nature, "We used to think that drugs were discovered by drug companies and prescribed by a physician and then they get to you. What we’ve found here is that bacteria that live on and inside of humans are doing an end-run around that process; they make drugs right on your body.”

Fischbach's team isolated one such thiopeptide is produced by a bacteria commonly found in the vagina. The vaginally-derived thiopeptide killed the same types of bacteria as the pharmaceutical compounds, including Staphylococcus aureus, which causes skin and other infections.

Rob Knight, a microbial ecologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told Nature, "To my knowledge, this is the first work that isolates new compounds with strong drug potential from the human microbiome. This work provides an exciting platform for mining our microbiomes for new compounds of medical interest.”

Fischbach said that the antibiotic-producing microbe is just the beginning of what he believes the microbiome will yield when closely studied.

"People are eager to learn what exactly helpful bacteria are doing,” he said. “Nobody had anticipated that they have the capability to make so many different kinds of drugs. I don’t think this is the only thing they do, but it’s a big thing.”

[image of microbiologist in laboratory via]