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Microbes hitched to insects provide a rich source of new antibiotics

Medicine was transformed in the 20th century by the discovery and development of antibiotics, the vast majority of which came from one source: soil bacteria. But we seem to have tapped out that supply. Resistance by disease-causing pathogens to existing antibiotics is increasing, endangering millions of lives and costing billions of dollars. New surveys of soil bacteria tend to turn up old chemicals. And few pharmaceutical companies are developing new antibiotic drugs. But the same class of bacteria that gave us many of our antibiotics, known as Streptomyces, makes a home not just in the soil but all over, including on insects. National Science Foundation-funded researchers have shown that some of these insect-associated microbes provide their hosts with protection against infections, suggesting that insects and their microbiomes may be a rich new source of antibiotics for use in human medicine.

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