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Antibiotic hunters

Antibiotic hunters. Tobias Kieser

The team

From the John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia:

  • Professor Mervyn Bibb
  • Dr Andy Truman
  • Dr Barrie Wilkinson
  • Dr Ian Bedford
  • Dr Matt Hutchings

The science behind the exhibit

Antibiotics have revolutionised the treatment of infectious disease since their introduction in the 1940s but do you know where they come from? Have you heard of MRSA, C.difficle and antibiotic resistance and do you realise how urgently we need to find or develop new antibiotics? We are rapidly losing the battle against pathogenic or bad bacteria and we are in an era of the rise of the superbug! We will take you on a drug development journey and you can become an antibiotic hunter and discover how leaf cutter ants are helping this arms race.

About the exhibit

Discover the amazing world of antibiotics and how they work, where they come from and how they are made. Give us your ideas of where we might look for new ones and go on your own antibiotic hunt leading to a colony of leaf cutter ants who make their own antibiotics!

Video

Antibiotics at the John Innes Centre  

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Leaf cutter ant cam: www.jic.ac.uk/news/2013/08/ants-and-antibiotics

John Innes Centre YouTube Channel

Images

These images are protected by copyright law and may be used with acknowledgement.

Antibiotic hunters

Copyright: Tobias Kieser Streptomyces glaucescens 

Streptomyces glaucescens produces the antibiotic hydroxy-streptomycin, which is very similar to streptomycin, the first actinomycete antibiotic to be discovered in 1943. Research carried out on actinomycetes at the John Innes Centre on the Norwich Research Park is revealing new insights into how these organisms make antibiotics. This knowledge can be used not only to increase the level of production of antibiotics, but also to generate variants with potentially improved clinical effectiveness to combat the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are currently of great concern to human health.

Copyright: Tobias Kieser

Copyright: David Hopwood and Andrew Davis Streptomyces coelicolor 

Streptomyces coelicolor belongs to a group of soil and marine bacteria called actinomycetes that produce around two thirds of all antibiotics of microbial origin. Many of these natural products have important applications both in medicine and in agriculture.

Copyright: David Hopwood and Andrew Davis

Copyright: David Hopwood and Andrew Davis Molecular cloning systems 

The emergence of molecular cloning systems in Streptomyces in the 1980’s, enabled the isolation of entire gene clusters responsible for the production of individual antibiotics. In pioneering work carried out at JIC, some of the genes responsible for production of the blue pigmented antibiotic actinorhodin in S. coelicolor (bottom right) were transferred to a different Streptomyces strain that made the orange pigmented medermycin. This resulted in the production of a novel purple pigmented ''hybrid'' compound, mederhodin (top). This was the first demonstration of the use of gene cloning to make a novel antibiotic in Streptomyces. Approaches such as this will undoubtedly play an important role in the development of new antibiotics to counter the ever increasing threat of multi-drug resistant pathogens.

Copyright: David Hopwood and Andrew Davis

Copyright: Lucy Foulston, Kim Findlay and Mervyn Bibb Scanning electron micrograph image of Microbispora corallina 

This scanning electron micrograph image of Microbispora corallina shows branching aerial filaments (hyphae) with pairs of spores formed on the ends. Research carried out at the John Innes Centre on the Norwich Research Park has revealed how M.corallina produces a very potent antibiotic, called microbisporicin, which is active against a wide range of bacterial pathogens.

Copyright: Lucy Foulston, Kim Findlay and Mervyn Bibb

Copyright: Mervyn Bibb and Andrew Davis Streptomyces coelicolor 

Streptomyces coelicolor grows in the soil as a fine branching network (mycelium) and spreads by producing spores that are carried on the wind and by other soil organisms. These colonies of S. coelicolor growing on a petri dish make at least five compounds with antibiotic activity (the blue background seen in this image is one of them).

Copyright: Mervyn Bibb and Andrew Davis