The solution to antibiotic resistance could come from soil.

It might come as a surprise to learn that dirt, that canonical cause of infection, is also a megafactory for antibiotics.

Research, published in the journal Nature Microbiology, has exploited that facility to produce a new class of antibiotics, dubbed “malacidins”, which are not only effective against that bane of modern hospitals, Golden Staph, but could pave the way for exponential increases in the rate of new antibiotic discovery.

Although some antibiotics are fully synthesised in the lab, most have come from the natural world, produced by fungi and bacteria as weapons to fight off other bugs that compete for nature’s microbe-sustaining goodies.

Dirt, as anyone with a passing knowledge of infection control understands, is positively teeming with bacteria, for whom killing off rivals is pretty much a full-time job.

The upshot, write the researchers, led by Sean Brady, a chemical biologist at the Rockefeller University in New York, is that “environmental microbes are in a continuous antibiotic arms race that is likely to select for antibiotic variants capable of circumventing existing resistance mechanisms.”

Read the full article in Cosmos magazine here