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Home » Antimicrobial Resistance » Back to nature: dark biological matter can lead us to new antibiotics

Dr Alexis Rideau

CEO, Deinove

Can nature and bacteria themselves provide us with the next-generation of antibiotics to fight superbugs? We strongly believe the answer is yes.

Approximately two out of three antibiotic classes used today find their origins in natural compounds derived from bacteria or fungi. Most of them are small molecules, called secondary metabolites, produced by bacteria themselves.

Over 100 antibiotics have been developed since 1928 when the first antibiotic, a natural compound, penicillin, was discovered. But most of these antibiotics only belong to just over 20 different chemical families which were discovered between 1929 and 1962, stemming mostly from the Actinobacteria phylum. Since then, new antibiotics have resulted from synthetic modifications of pre-existing ones. Only three new classes (oxazolidinones, lipopetides and malacidins) have been brought to the market.

Recent evidence suggests an estimated one trillion microbial species populate planet Earth.

Advances in technology

Meanwhile, recent evidence suggests an estimated one trillion microbial species populate planet Earth. Only 0.1% of them have been identified and even fewer have been cultured. This microbial “dark matter” has remained overlooked for decades due to their low abundance, their low detection rates and the difficulty in cultivating and isolating them.

But times have changed: new technologies such as microfluidics, metagenomics and synthetic biology, give us the possibility to exploit the almost unlimited underlying metabolic potential and reveal new classes of antibiotics. The global antibiotic pipeline is not just lacking in numbers: we need new, efficient chemical scaffold.

Fermentation route to produce molecules

Nature is not just the source of new molecules; it is also one of the most efficient ways of production. Fermentation is often the best – and sometimes the only – route to produce complex molecules like antibiotics in a quantitative and cost-efficient manner. Small molecules produced by fermentation are often overlooked because they are not considered “innovative enough”. It is a big mistake: the science and industrial processes behind them are very complex and require cutting-edge technologies and expertise.

Sometimes, traditional natural methods being updated to modern technologies are just what the doctor ordered. We need to pursue this route and that is what we dedicate our innovative discovery platform to at Deinove.

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