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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Geeking Science: All the Dirt

Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

November, election month, what better time to talk about dirt? I've been totally into dirt this year with my gardening project, which is finally winding down just as the winter holidays begun. Hopefully everything I planted will survive the winter and the benign neglect, who am I kidding - full out neglect, until tax season is over.

Now to Geeking about medicine and dirt.

In 2015 a new possible antibiotic, the first in 30 years, was found and named teixobactin. This is way cool as superbugs continue to develop because far too many people do not take the full course of medication. Now we have something new to fight the fast evolving bacteria.

But even cooler is how they found teixobactin. They got it studying dirt.

Scientists have known dirt has a lot of possibilities for suppression of bacteria, viruses and other microlife; the challenge has been when soil is removed from its culture and studied, all the good stuff in it quickly dies. They couldn't keep what they needed to study alive long enough to study it with the sampling methods available to them.

This changed when Northeastern University (Boston, MA) created a new way to isolate chemical compounds in soil using an electronic chip.

Now a whole new world has opened up for studying the microbes in dirt.

And for the science-fiction people - what this means is we may have a way to study dirt while terraforming planets. The first stage to make a planet hospitable will be creation of dirt and atmosphere. Humanity has gotten a good handle on the atmosphere at this point but making living soil, with all of its aspects, has been inconceivable - we didn't even know what we didn't know about dirt. Being able to study soil with this new tool changes the impossible to the impractical. We will need more tools to make it practical, but we are getting there.


The full scholarly article can be found at: Teixobactin, the first of a new class of antibiotics discovered by iChip technology? by Laura J.V. Piddock. Published June 18, 2015 in Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

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