Scientists turn to soil to combat antibiotic-resistant TB

An antibiotic present in soil may prove effective against antibiotic-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis — the bacteria responsible for tuberculosis, according to a study published in Nature Communications.

M. tuberculosis are growing increasingly resistant against the antibiotic rifamycin, which targets an enzyme called RNA polymerase that is crucial to the bacteria's survival.

"Rifamycin is naturally produced by a bacterium," lead study author Sean F. Brady, PhD, a researcher at The Rockefeller University in New York City, said in a press release. "So I wanted to find out whether nature had also made Rif analogs — molecules that look like rifamycin, but that have slight differences."

Dr. Brady and his team conducted gene sequencing for numerous microbes found in soil samples from areas across the U.S. They identified a type of natural antibiotics called kanglemycins that have a genetic makeup similar to rifamycin. Additional analyses revealed these antibiotics can eliminate TB bacteria that do not respond to rifamycin.

Researchers found kanglemycins anchor to a previously unknown pocket of the TB bacteria's RNA polymerase "that other drugs didn't take advantage of," Elizabeth Campbell, PhD, a research associate professor at The Rockefeller University, said in the press release.

This discovery could provide a new way for scientists to create stronger antibiotics that exploit this pocket.

"We'd still like to see increased potency and broader activity against resistant bugs," Dr. Campbell said in the press release. "But this study tells us that we're on the right track."

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