Researchers in New Zealand recently applied this process, known as ‘genome mining’, to a strain of Thermogemmatispora – a type of bacteria that lives in extreme conditions in the heated soil of New Zealand’s Taupo geothermal zone. They discovered a new type of lanthipeptide, called tikitericin, which they believe is part of the microorganism’s host defence system.
“The global issue of antimicrobial resistance will affect everyone, so we need to find new solutions,” says Professor Margaret Brimble from the University of Auckland, whose research group are behind the discovery. “Naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides, produced by microorganisms to fend off other microorganisms, are a rich source of lead compounds to develop new antibiotics.”
Other lanthipeptides have already shown evidence of antimicrobial properties, and one has even been approved as food preservation agent, so Margaret’s team knew the protein they had isolated had potential. However, extracting proteins from microorganisms is time-consuming and often the yields are small. The team knew that to be able to study tikitericin in detail, they would need to develop a way to make it in the lab.
Using a number of different techniques to analyse the protein isolated from the Thermogemmatispora strain, the team were able to identify the structure of tikitericin, enabling them to build the peptide in the lab. Now that they can produce larger quantities of the molecule, the team can investigate its antimicrobial properties and hope that it will one day play a role in fighting bacterial infections.
“I am passionate about trying to understand the intricate chemistry that links organisms together,” says Dr Robert Keyzers, senior lecturer at the Victoria University of Wellington and co-author of the paper. “If we are lucky enough, one of our compounds may spearhead a greater understanding of biochemistry, metabolism or molecular biology that in the future, could lead to advances in medicine. One day a molecule we discover may help some sick people somewhere and that is a legacy we would all be amazingly proud of.”
This article is free to read in our open access, flagship journal Chemical Science: Buzhe Xu et al., Chem. Sci., 2018, Accepted Manuscript. DOI: 10.1039/C8SC02170H. You can access all of our ChemSci Picks in this article collection.