Microbes hitched to insects provide a rich source of new antibiotics

4th February 2019

In an exhaustive search of microbes from more than 1,400 insects collected from diverse environments across North and South America, a research team found that insect-borne microbes often outperformed soil bacteria in stopping some of the most common and dangerous antibiotic-resistant pathogens. 

Medicine was transformed in the 20th century by the discovery and development of antibiotics, the vast majority of which came from one source: soil bacteria.

But we seem to have tapped out that supply. Resistance by disease-causing pathogens to existing antibiotics is increasing, endangering millions of lives and costing billions of dollars. New surveys of soil bacteria tend to turn up old chemicals. And few pharmaceutical companies are developing new antibiotic drugs.

But the same class of bacteria that gave us many of our antibiotics, known as Streptomyces, makes a home not just in the soil but all over, including on insects. Cameron Currie, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of bacteriology, has shown that some of these insect-associated microbes provide their hosts with protection against infections, suggesting that insects and their microbiomes may be a rich new source of antibiotics for use in human medicine.

So with a team of collaborators, Currie set out to test that idea, thousands of times over. In an exhaustive search of microbes from more than 1,400 insects collected from diverse environments across North and South America, Currie's team found that insect-borne microbes often outperformed soil bacteria in stopping some of the most common and dangerous antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

The full article can be read here