Researchers have discovered 25 new antibiotics after developing a new technique for growing bacteria. Bacteria are abundant in soil – most of the bacteria currently used to make antibiotics are from the soil – but previously only a very small number could be grown in the laboratory. However, using this new method, it is thought that scientists will be able to grow nearly half of all soil bacteria.

This new method involves a device with many “rooms”; each for a single bacterium, which when placed in the soil allows the permeation of unique soil chemical conditions whilst limiting the bacterial motility. These microbes then produce chemicals that can be analysed for their antimicrobial promise.

These newly discovered antibiotics are the first to come to light since 1987, highlighting how significant the drought has been for new drugs to tackle infection. One antibiotic in particular that has shown great promise- is teixobactin. Tests have shown it is toxic to gram-positive bacteria with no mammalian tissue damage. It is also effective enough to clear MRSA from test mice. It works by targeting cell wall fats in the bacteria with a slim chance of resistance and it is soon to enter human trials.

Dr James Mason from King’s College London said: “It’s impressive what they’ve done. From one soil sample they’ve found one new antibiotic, and their approach opens up a new route to a huge number of potential products. One of the most exciting aspects is that a vast array of new bacteria can be screened”.

Prof Mark Woolhouse from the University of Edinburgh said: “What most excites me is the tantalising prospect that this discovery is just the tip of the iceberg.”

This is a very significant step forward because with microbial resistance becoming more prevalent, we are running out of effective drugs to combat them. This could lead to many previously treatable infections becoming impossible to cure. It is therefore vital for research such as this to be one of our foremost concerns moving forward in medical science.