Bacteria: from gut to lab to disease


B. fragilis, National Review of Medicine

Bacteria are not forgotten like the fungi but they are somewhat neglected when it comes to prioritizing research dollars and drug development efforts. It is perplexing considering that bacteria are often in the mass media with tales of flesh eating infections and antibiotic resistant killer infections, but very little is invested in basic bacteriology research and antibiotic development. As this image from the group Extending the Cure shows there are almost no new antibiotics coming to market despite the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s 10x’20 initiative (10 new antibiotics by 2020). 


Fortunately the UK is taking action to rectify this situation and has announced the creation of the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection, which I discuss in the current OBR News of the Week. This follows up the Newsflash from last week when the UK announced the formation of the Manchester Fungal Infection Group (MFIG). These two new institutes put the UK at the forefront of action in the infectious disease world. What’s especially cool about the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology is that its focus is on the basic science of bacteria to identify new antibiotic targets and mechanisms instead of only high throughput drug screening. The Centre is investing in cutting-edge technology that leads to some really amazing eye candy that is also useful such as the 3D imaging of bacterial colonization over the entire course of infection. 

Research similar to an August 18th online letter in Nature from Caltech on the identification of a set of genes necessary and sufficient for specificity and stability of some gut bacteria would be the stuff of the MRC Centre. I review the findings of this paper briefly in the OBR News of the Week, but basic research of this type that provides a better understanding of the organism itself will give us loads of targets for drugs, and allow us to create drugs that we actually understand their mechanisms. If we could manipulate bacterial stability in the gut we could battle conditions from obesity to autism. This probably deserves a few dollar bills. 




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