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Steven Schmitt from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering at ETH Zurich in Basel has developed a method with which producers of active substances can be analyzed in a much shorter time than was previously possible, enabling new antibiotic candidates to be discovered.
The method developed by Steven Schmitt is based on the approach with which Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin, one of the first antibiotics, 90 years ago. Schmitt and colleagues from ETH Professor Sven Panke’s group in the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering (D-BSSE) at ETH Zurich in Basel have now modernized and miniaturized Fleming’s method. “While it currently takes up to a year to test around 10,000 producers of substances using conventional methods, we are able to examine millions of variants within just a few days,” says Schmitt in an ETH News.
Schmitt and his colleagues use tiny beads of gel just half a millimeter across. For this, they embed numerous sensor bacteria along with one microorganism that produces a substance with a potential antibiotic effect. “If the produced substance has an antibiotic effect, the sensor bacteria die. If it has no effect, they proliferate and form cell clusters”, explains the ETH.
With the method developed by Schmitt the Basel scientists, together with Dutch and German colleagues, have identified a number of new antibiotic candidates. They will now investigate whether some of these molecules are suited for medical application. The nanoFleming method can also be used to discover more effective antibiotics because their efficacy can also be tested in smaller doses. “And because we are now able to test many more producers of active substances in a much shorter time than was possible with previous methods, the chances of discovering active agents from rare microorganisms are far greater”, says Schmitt
He is currently considering establishing a spin-off to commercialize the method.