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The Art in Science

Product Image Bacterial Weapons

Bacterial Weapons

Pam Schultz, Research Laboratory Specialist Senior (Sherman Laboratory), Natural Products Discovery Core, Life Sciences Institute, University of Michigan

Bacteria naturally produce compounds that kill other bacteria, and in some cases, fungi and viruses. In fact, a large number of the antibiotics that doctors use to treat infections were originally discovered and purified from bacteria. The genus Streptomyces is particularly interesting in this regard; compounds isolated from this bacteria account for nearly 50% of the antibiotics that are used clinically today. This is a colony of Streptomyces that was isolated from an Israeli desert sand sample.  The blue color around the bacterial colony is a secreted compound that could have biological activity. Understanding the chemistry of these natural compounds is allowing researchers to harness these bioactive substances as novel therapeutics to treat infectious diseases and, in some cases, even cancer.