Source of new antibiotics discovered in the sea

Source of new antibiotics discovered in the sea

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Bacteria from the sea offer potential for the production of new antibiotics

A research team has managed to cultivate previously neglected bacteria from the sea and to open up a source for new antibiotics. The new findings are particularly important against the background of the increase in resistant germs.

Although the increasing spread of antibiotic resistance makes the development of new antibiotics urgently necessary, the large pharmaceutical companies in particular are increasingly withdrawing from this business area, primarily because it is difficult to make money with them. However, a research team has now cultivated little-noticed marine bacteria and has thus opened up a source of new antibiotics.

Little noticed bacteria from the sea

The scientists around Prof. Dr. Christian Jogler from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena has successfully cultivated several functional bacteria from the sea that have so far been neglected in the laboratory, characterized them functionally and thus made them accessible to systematic drug screening.

According to a communication, the first bioinformatic analyzes and cell biological observations indicate a potential for the production of new antibiotics. The researchers report on this in the journal "Nature Microbiology".

New antibiotics are urgently needed

"The introduction of antibiotics is one of the most important advances in medicine in the 20th century," writes the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA) on its portal "". "These drugs can effectively treat infectious diseases caused by bacteria," said the experts.

As the communication from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena states, almost three quarters of all clinically relevant antibiotics are natural products - produced by bacteria. However, the antibiotics available today are becoming less effective, and more and more pathogens are resistant to the drugs. So new antibiotics are urgently needed.

However, less than one percent of the known types of bacteria are currently available for drug searches, the remaining 99 percent are considered “uncultivable” and have therefore hardly been researched. In addition, the ability to produce antibiotics is not evenly distributed among bacteria.

"It is mainly found in microorganisms with complex lifestyles, an unusual cell biology and large genomes," explains Prof. Christian Jogler from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena.

"Such organisms produce antibiotic compounds and use them in the fight for nutrients and habitats against other bacteria," says the microbiologist. Wherever such microbiological distribution struggles occur and nutrients are scarce, it is a promising place to look for potential antibiotic producers.

Searched for planctomycetes in ten locations

This is exactly what the Jena researchers did: with diving robots and scientific divers they searched for a total of ten places in the sea for so-called planctomycetes.

“We know that planctomycetes live in communities with other microorganisms and compete with them for habitat and nutrients,” explains Jogler, the reason that makes this group of bacteria interesting for the scientists.

From the samples from the Mediterranean, the North and Baltic Seas, the Black Sea, the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic Ocean, they managed to bring a total of 79 new Planctomycetes in pure culture. "Together, these pure cultures form 31 new genera and 65 new species," says Dr. Sandra Wiegand, the first author of the study.

Part of the analysis has already been confirmed experimentally

Bioinformatic and microscopic methods were used to characterize these newly obtained pure cultures. "The bioinformatic analysis was holistic," said Dr. Wiegand.

According to the experts, the potential to produce small molecules such as antibiotics was examined as well as the processes of cellular signal processing. These are a measure of the complexity of the microbial way of life and thus another indication of antibiotic production.

"The results of these analyzes show that the newly obtained planctomycetes have extraordinarily complex lifestyles and have the potential to be able to produce new antibiotics."

The researchers were already able to experimentally confirm some of their bioinformatic analyzes in the present study. For example, they have investigated the cell biology of the isolated planctomycetes.

"They share very differently than all critical pathogenic bacteria," says Prof. Jogler. The work also shows unexpected new mechanisms of bacterial cell division. Above all, however, the study clearly shows that supposedly “uncultivable” bacteria can be obtained and characterized in pure culture.

Many aspects can be transferred to other potential antibiotic producers

According to the authors, many aspects of their current work can be transferred to other potential antibiotic producers. "The hypothesis-driven cultivation and holistic characterization is imperative to really discover new things and enable new therapeutic approaches," said Prof. Jogler.

In addition to the team from the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, researchers from other German institutions as well as from the Netherlands, Spain, Norway, Portugal and the USA are also involved in the work. (ad)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Friedrich Schiller University Jena: Antibiotics from the sea, (accessed: November 19, 2019), Friedrich Schiller University Jena
  • Nature Microbiology: Cultivation and functional characterization of 79 planctomycetes uncovers their unique biology, (accessed: November 19, 2019), Nature Microbiology
  • Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA): Antibiotics, (accessed: November 19, 2019),

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