For All Things Environmental Science

From soil microbe to saviour of humanity – How Streptomyces (could) save the world.

Image 3 WIDWID SAMP blog

Why do I do what I do? Well firstly, what do I do?

My PhD is in molecular microbiology, which means I study the molecular fundamentals of microbes - the nuts and bolts of microscopic life. Think of me as like a mechanic for cells, except I don’t really know how the engine works, so I just break random bits to see what happens. Specifically, I look at a type of bacteria called Streptomyces, they are weird (for bacteria) because, unlike most, they grow in long chains of cells (Figure 1) called mycelia, these spread throughout the soil (where the bacteria live) and feed off decomposing matter (called detritus). They are famed (amongst microbiologists at least) for being prolific producers of antibiotics. In order to reproduce, a colony of Streptomyces must produce spores which can then disperse, allowing the bacteria to colonise new areas (Figure 2). At this stage in their life cycle (sporulation) they begin to make antibiotics as a chemical weapon to defend the colony from invading microbes, competing for that nutritious detritus (see a colony of
Streptomyces coelicolor producing a blue antibiotic in figure 3).


Finding New Antibiotics: Nature’s Guide for Dummies


With the seemingly unstoppable rise in pathogen resistance and dire warnings of a pre-antibiotic era looming, there has never been a better time to be thinking seriously about revamping our stocks of antimicrobial drugs. But where does one go when in need of a new antibiotic?