A new source for antibiotics found in… the vagina?

Researchers have found a fertile source for new antibiotics: Vaginal bacteria. It’s a Darwinian world down there, with “good,” antibiotic-producing bacteria present to combat more malevolent microcritters like MRSA. So when plumbing the depths of the microbiome, University of California, San Francisco researchers essentially discovered a new antibiotic. Their findings were published Sept. 11 in Cell. Interestingly, the news stretches […]

Researchers have found a fertile source for new antibiotics: Vaginal bacteria.

It’s a Darwinian world down there, with “good,” antibiotic-producing bacteria present to combat more malevolent microcritters like MRSA. So when plumbing the depths of the microbiome, University of California, San Francisco researchers essentially discovered a new antibiotic. Their findings were published Sept. 11 in Cell.

Interestingly, the news stretches beyond finding just one new antibiotic – gene clusters that code for antibiotic production are scattered all across the human microbiome, the researchers found.

“To my knowledge, this is the first work that isolates new compounds with strong drug potential from the human microbiome,” Rob Knight, a microbial ecologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, told the Genetic Literacy Project – an excellent site that deserves a major hat tip for unearthing this gem. “This work provides an exciting platform for mining our microbiomes for new compounds of medical interest.”

The previously unknown antibiotic, called lactocillin, is a thiopeptide antibiotic that’s produced by a bacteria commonly found in the vagina. Thiopeptide antibiotics, it should be noted, have historically been found largely in soil samples and marine life –  not so much in the human microbiome.

After isolating and purifying the lactocillin, UCSF researchers found it to be effective against a number of Gram-positive vaginal pathogens, including staph infections. Thiopeptides, a new class of antibiotics, have also independently been found useful in treating MRSA.

The UCSF study found lactocillin to be effective against the pathogens Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus faecalis, Gardnerella vaginalis and Corynebacterium aurimucum. It’s not, however, effective against E. Coli.

Read the whole paper:

A Systematic Analysis of Biosynthetic Gene Clusters in the Human Microbiome Reveals a Common Family of Antibiotics