Could Your Gut Microbiome Hold the Answer to New Antibiotics?
If someone were to ask you what an antibiotic is, you might be able to give them a pretty good description of a drug that can kill bacteria and heal an infection. You might even go on to describe how antibiotics are used in various ways like topical ointments, oral supplements, or even intravenously. You may even know that many of the antibiotics we use today are made from fungi, such as penicillin and amoxicillin. But – you might not know that discovering new antibiotics has been steadily declining over the last 60 years – with only 3 new drugs out for market in the last twenty years. Many pharmaceutical companies have deemed them not financially profitable, limiting the discovery of new drugs. Not only that, but antibiotic resistance has changed how effective many of these antibiotics are.
But fungi aren’t the only organisms in nature that have a means of combating bacterial pathogens. In an effort to find new sources of antimicrobial agents, scientists are now seeking potential new compounds all over the world, and some in very odd places.
Lions and Tigers and Komodo Dragons, Oh My!
Researchers have been looking for the answer to antibiotic resistance all across the globe. What they found is shocking evidence of potential new therapies in many different forms. Nature is full of incredible examples of evolution and adaptation. We’ve compiled a list of some of the most fascinating ones – but these are only just some of the new potential antibiotic sources scientists have found in the wild. Trust us, there are more and with each day comes a new discovery!
1. Komodo Dragons
If you thought making anti-venom from snakes seemed interesting, try making an antibiotic from the blood of a Komodo Dragon. Apparently, these reptiles carry many types of bacteria in their saliva that never seem to harm them. Turns out, isolating a molecule in their blood may help wounds heal and even be developed into an antibiotic in the future. 1
2. Amazonian Leaf-Cutter Ants
These particular ants are unique in their fungus-farming practices that put agriculture specialists to shame. One way they do this is to employ helpful bacteria on their bodies to fight off other microbes from invading their nest. These bacteria appear like powdered sugar sprinkled on their bodies and produce powerful antibiotic effects scientists now believe can be used for antibacterial and antifungal purposes. 2
3. Saltwater and Freshwater Fish
That slimy coat on fish? Turns out it can fight MRSA – an extremely antibiotic-resistant form of the bacteria that causes Staph infections. The viscous mucus that covers many fish protects them from bacteria, fungi, and even viruses in their environment. Rich in antimicrobial polysaccharides and peptides, the slime coat might prove to be another interesting antibiotic potential. 3
4. Your Friendly Neighborhood Crow
Many birds that consume contaminated foods or dead animals possess strong antimicrobial peptides in their bodies. Crows, in general, have been found to have some of the highest antibacterial activity spreading from their heart, blood, brain, lungs, and stomach. 4
The truth is, nature is full of odd antimicrobial agents, though it turns out some of them may even be inside you!
That’s right – your gut microbiome naturally produces various kinds of antimicrobial byproducts that help keep their host (you) healthy and happy. The last thing your gut microbes want is to be outcompeted by harmful organisms. Instead, they’ve evolved different ways to out-maneuver their opponents and maintain their ecosystem.
The Power Inside You
There is so much about our gut microbes we don’t know, but each day we learn more and more about just how mighty these microscopic organisms are – especially in what they can do.
At Viome, we stress how important microbial activities are in our day-to-day health. If you have a healthy gut microbiome, your microbes will be more active in producing beneficial byproducts that can keep your intestinal lining strong, produce easily absorbable nutrients, and fight off infection. Many of these beneficial activities are related to the intricate compounds they produce – something we wouldn’t have access to without them. However, no one really knows all the kinds of compounds they can make – but some of them act like natural antibiotics that fight invading pathogens.
Recently, a new study is exploring just that.
Dr. Mohamed Donia from Princeton University has been monitoring microbial DNA in hopes of finding genes that code for byproducts similar to many drug-like molecules( 5). With their first run, they were able to match certain microbial byproducts to similar molecules already used in clinics today – but this is just the tip of the iceberg!
We could very well be on the precipice of a massive discovery of drugs – all found right inside of you, created by you.
It might seem odd, but your gut could be a treasure trove of undiscovered resources. Scientists agree it’s not so farfetched. Mother Nature has a way of creating symbiosis among living organisms. If you seek, she provides. As we continue to peel back the cover masking our gut microbiome, we’re bound to find pages and pages of helpful information just waiting to be read.
*The information on the Viome website is provided for informational purposes only and with the understanding that Viome is not engaged in rendering medical advice or recommendations. Viome is providing this educational information to share the exciting developments being reported in the scientific literature about the human microbiome and your health. Viome products are not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any disease.
1. Chung EMC, Dean SN, Propst CN, Bishop BM, van Hoek ML. Komodo dragon-inspired synthetic peptide DRGN-1 promotes wound-healing of a mixed-biofilm infected wound. NPJ Biofilms Microbiomes. 2017;3:9.
2. Li H, Sosa-Calvo J, Horn HA, et al. Convergent evolution of complex structures for ant-bacterial defensive symbiosis in fungus-farming ants. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018;115:10720-10725.
3. Fuochi V, Li Volti G, Camiolo G, et al. Antimicrobial and Anti-Proliferative Effects of Skin Mucus Derived from Dasyatis pastinaca (Linnaeus, 1758). Mar Drugs. 2017;15.
4. Shaharabany M, Gollop N, Ravin S, et al. Naturally occurring antibacterial activities of avian and crocodile tissues. J Antimicrob Chemother. 1999;44:416-418.
5. Sugimoto Y, Camacho FR, Wang S, et al. A metagenomic strategy for harnessing the chemical repertoire of the human microbiome. Science. 2019.