Scientists have developed a device that allows bacteria that would not grow in a lab environment to be cultured into potentially powerful antibiotic drugs. The device has already unearthed one antibiotic that can vanquish drug resistant super bugs like MRSA in animal models but its creators say its just the beginning. Ben Gruber reports.
STORY: This is teixobactin. Scientists say it's the most important antibiotic to be discovered in 25 years. In animal trials, it has proven effective in killing drug resistant super bugs like MRSA and the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. But according to Professor Kim Lewis of Northeastern University, what is even more promising than teixobactin is the way in which is discovered. Until now scientists could only harness 1 percent of bacteria derived from soil to develop antibiotic compounds. The remaining 99 percent wouldn't grow in a lab environment. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KIM LEWIS, PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "For 100 years people would tinker with the growth media in a petri dish trying to coax uncultured bacteria into growth with very limited success. So we immediately decided that we are not going to do that. We are not going to tinker with the media in the petri dish because, you know, 100 years of negative results that tells you something. " What it told Kim and his colleagues is that they needed a new approach. It became apparent to them that there was something about a bacteria's natural environment that allows it to thrive. So instead of bringing the bacteria to the lab - the researchers brought the lab to the bacteria. To accomplish that they developed a device they called an iChip. (SOUNDBITE) (English) KIM LEWIS, PROFESSOR OF BIOLOGY, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "We are essentially tricking bacteria, they don't know that something has happened to them. They are tricked into perceiving this as their natural environment." Lewis says the iChip is a lobster trap for bacteria. It works by placing bacterial cells into tiny chambers and then placing the device back in the ground where the cells can grow into bacteria colonies. Once these colonies form, Kim says they are robust enough to survive in a lab where they can be tested for potential drug compounds. Along with teixobactin, Kim and his team have used the iChip to unearth 25 potential compounds that could form the basis of future treatments...., and he believes these discoveries are just the tip of the iceberg.