Mining Social Networks … Of Bacteria!
◈ The Unseen War: In the intense, unseen competition for space and food, warring factions of bacteria produce antibiotics in a microscopic, internecine war. Actinomycetes, a filamentous type of bacteria found in soil, are arguably the deepest and richest natural source of drugs that we exploit as antibiotics, antifungals, chemotherapeutics and immunosuppressants. It was from an actinobacterium, Streptomyces that the first compound to be dubbed an antibiotic was isolated, in the lab of Ukrainian born microbiologist Selman Waksman. Streptomycin cured tuberculosis, winning Waksman a Nobel prize in 1952.
◈ Antibiotic Apocalypse: Since then, however, rampant antibiotic resistance has led the director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to issue a dire warning that we may be heading into a post-antibiotic era (for a scary read: http://goo.gl/LvFymj). A potential way to fight back is with phage therapy, a ploy that uses viruses to prey on their natural bacterial targets (see The Enemy of My Enemy: http://goo.gl/ks0qdv).
◈ Hold the Doom and Gloom: Scientists may yet have other tricks up their lab coat sleeves. Recently, they have discovered that the vast majority of compounds manufactured by bacteria are coded by sleeping gene clusters that can be woken up only in response to specific environmental challenges or bacterial interactions. Grown under typical laboratory conditions, bacteria produce only a handful of their complex repertoire of chemicals. But when placed in intimate contact with competing species, co-cultures of Streptomyces coelicolor produce many new and specialized compounds. Specific communities of microbes yield distinctive “chemical signatures”, revealing an untapped potential for the discovery of new antibiotics. This promising approach could be used not just with actinomycetes, but with all kinds of antibiotic-producing microbes. Forget Facebook, let’s mine those social networks..of bacteria!
REF: Imaging Mass Spectrometry Reveals Highly Specific Interactions between Actinomycetes To Activate Specialized Metabolic Gene Clusters (2013) David A. Hopwood http://mbio.asm.org/content/4/5/e00612-13.full
IMAGE: Streptomyces coelicolor via Microbe Wiki http://goo.gl/wfZnrI