One of the most mysterious forms of life may turn out to be a rich and untapped source of antibacterial drugs. The mysterious life form is Archaea, a family of single-celled organisms that thrive in environments like boiling hydrothermal pools and smoking deep sea vents which are too extreme for most other species to survive.
“It is the first discovery of a functional antibacterial gene in Archaea,” says Seth Bordenstein, the associate professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt University who directed the study, “You can’t overstate the significance of the antibiotic resistance problem that humanity is facing. This discovery should help energize the pursuit for new antibiotics in this underexplored group of life.”
Vanderbilt University has applied for a patent on the newly discovered gene and is exploring industry partnerships and licensing opportunities.
Until the late 1970s, biologists thought that Archaea were just weird bacteria, but then a landmark analysis of their DNA showed that they represent an independent branch on the tree of life that stretches back more than three billion years.
The realization that Archaea could be a source of novel pharmaceuticals emerges from a study of widespread horizontal gene transfer between different species conducted by a team of scientists from Vanderbilt University and Portland State University in Oregon.