Scientists have discovered a brand-new antibiotic known as phazolicin.
In the 1992 movie Medicine Man, actor Sean Connery plays a devoted scientist who is seeking to create a new cure from a chemical found in a rare species of flower deep within the Amazon rainforest. He is up against an unscrupulous logging company that is building a road through the forest, thereby endangering both local people and the forest’s biodiversity.
Life, as they say, imitates art. To wit: deep within a rainforest in Mexico scientists from rom Rutgers University in the United States have discovered a brand-new antibiotic known as phazolicin in the form of a previously unknown compound.
Extracted from the root of wild forms of Phaseolus vulgaris, or common beans, the antibiotic is produced by a species of symbiotic soil bacteria that form nodules on the roots of bean plants. The bacterium, which belongs to the Rhizobium genus, helps the plant bind nitrogen. It also keeps harmful microbes at bay.
The new antibiotic reportedly is effective against several types of bacteria, which indicates it may have a wide range of applications, including in agriculture. It could protect cultivated plants, particularly beans, peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, soybeans and other legumes. It might also work against certain bacteria that sicken people.
“Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem in both medicine and agriculture, and continuing searches for new antibiotics are very important as they may provide leads for future anti-bacterial agents,” notes Konstantin Severinov, a molecular biologist and biochemist at Rutgers University who was a senior author of a study on the discovery.
The newly developed antibiotic attacks a wide range of bacterial cells and can also penetrate harmful bacteria and bind to their ribosomes, interfering with their ability to synthesize proteins. The antibiotic “expands the known diversity of LAPs (linear azoline-containing peptides) and may be used in the future as biocontrol agent for agricultural needs,” the scientists write in a study published in the journal Nature Communications.
“We hope to show the bacterium can be used as a ‘plant probiotic’ because phazolicin will prevent other, potentially harmful bacteria from growing in the root system of agriculturally important plants,” Severinov says.
When that happens, the new peptide could be employed to grow food in a more environmentally manner because it will boost plant yields and increase the ability of legumes to resist various pests without the need for other chemical pesticides.