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The discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming, though accidental, solved one of the most perplexing puzzles that plagued 20th-century scientists: “How can bacteria be killed?” This drug gave researchers an upper hand against the previously indestructible bacteria. Over time, however, bacteria acquired resistance to penicillin and several other antibiotics created after it. On their part, researchers still sought ways to ensure that humans maintain that upper hand over bacteria. They discovered ways to harness the domineering property of bacteria to develop toxins that kill other bacteria. In short, they used bacteria to kill other bacteria. These bacteria toxins were discovered to be a product of genes, and scientists sought ways to harness data in these genes to produce potent antibiotics. Their discovery was, however, met with bacterial resistance, and it seems researchers are running out of bacteria to manipulate, and the bacterial world is winning the battle.
Nonetheless, the novel antibiotic synthesized at the Rockefeller University may turn that tide against drug-resistant bacteria. This antibiotic created from computer models of bacteria gene products seems to destroy all bacteria (drug-resistant and drug-susceptible alike). The drug, known as Cilagicin has been successfully tested with great results in mice subjects.
Cilagicin, the wonder drug
Cilagicin employs a new mechanism to attack methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus MRSA, Clostridium difficile, and various other deadly bacteria that have over time developed means to evade antibiotic destruction.
To synthesize this drug, researchers analyzed the bacteria DNA using a computer algorithm. The algorithm straightened out the bacterial DNA and obtained the genetic information within the sequence. They used the information to predict the structure of antibiotic-like compounds that the bacteria would produce. This structure gave organic chemists a clue about the antibiotic compound to synthesize.
Although this technique is not always a precise prediction, it, however, provides insight as to the type of molecules bacteria genes will produce in nature. This technique, unlike previously existing techniques, allows scientists to access every bacteria gene.
Prior to this research, the bacteria ‘cil’ gene cluster responsible for coding the Cilagicin compound had not yet been analyzed in this context. However, when the sequences obtained from this gene were fed into the algorithm, one of the proposed compounds, Cilagicin turned out to be a potent antibiotic.
Testing and trials
When tested, it was discovered that Cilagicin reliably destroyed gram-positive bacteria in the lab but had no effect on human cells. The drug showed promising results in mice as it kills several drug-resistant bacteria while sparing the mice cells.
The team hopes to perform human test trials in the future; however, this will be after Cilagicin and its effects have been clearly understood.
The Cilagicin compound acts by binding and inhibiting two molecules, C55-P and C55-PP, both of which help maintain bacterial cell walls. Bacitracin and other existing antibiotics bind one of these molecules but never both. By depending on the unbound molecule, bacteria have found ways of surviving the attack by bacitracin and other antibiotics. The potency of Cilagicin can be used to mount a full-scale attack against MRSA and other drug-resistant bacteria, thus giving humanity a fighting chance.
When proven to be safe to use on humans, Cilagicin would greatly influence the tide against drug-resistant bacteria.
The microbial apocalypse that conspiracy theorists constantly theorize about might just have been deferred for a decade or three.