Bacteria Can Eat as Well as Produce Antibiotics


Unexpected new microbial defensive capabilities are emerging from genomic analyses of microbial diversity from the Genomics:GTL program and genome sequencing projects at the DOE Joint Genome Institute. Professor George Church and colleagues at the Harvard Medical School Systems Biology Center report on yet another remarkable example of microbial adaptability in the April 4 issue of the journal Science. It has long been recognized that bacteria living in soils fight to maintain their territory by producing antibiotics against their competitors; such antibiotics (such as streptomycin) have been widely used in medicine to fight infection. In the course of surveying soil microbes for useful capabilities in environmental remediation or bioenergy production, the researchers discovered a further adaptation “some microbes can eat their enemies” ammunition. This means that the original defensive purpose of these microbial antibiotics can be used as a dietary source when other nutrients are lacking. This new result may have implications for the general evolution of antibiotic resistance of microbes in a variety of health and environmental settings.