That's where numerous most widely used antibiotics in medicine come from.
Soil is thought to be a good source of antibiotics as its low-nutrient content forces different bacteria species to fight against each other for survival, making them "stronger". "Our idea is, there's this reservoir of antibiotics out in the environment we haven't accessed yet", Brady said.
"We're missing most of the molecules that would have come from that extraordinarily productive platform", said Brady, a chemist and associate professor at Rockefeller University.
They also knew that trying to culture all their soil samples in a lab would take forever, and that most would not replicate themselves under lab conditions anyway. The report of the study appeared in the latest issue of the journal Nature Microbiology.
Sifting through the vast quantity of data, Brady and his fellow researchers were on the hunt for a particular gene closely associated with the production of calcium-dependent antibiotics that attack bacterial cells when calcium is present. Daptomycin is the most well-known of these drugs. They had speculated that this novel use of calcium was the key to the longevity of these antibiotics.
Ever since the mid-1940s, after penicillin was discovered by microbiologist Alexander Fleming and rushed into development, the introduction of new antibiotics has quickly given rise to disease-causing bacteria capable of eluding their effects. When they found what they were after, they cloned the genes, rearranged them and implanted them in a host organism, using fermentation to expand the sample. Because all the genes needed to make a molecule in bacteria cluster together, identifying the marker gene enabled them to find all the other genes in the gene cluster.
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The US team behind the malacidin discovery are "right to call it a new class of antibiotics", molecular biologist Dr Luke Alderwick told The Independent.
This approach enabled the team to produce enough malacidins to test their antibacterial activity.
Experiments suggest the antibiotic family, known as malacidins, can kill several "superbugs", including the notoriously difficult-to-treat methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). 'This might be a way of reducing resistance'.
Dr. Sean Brady, who leads the team, says it will be a long and hard process to transform this discovery into antibiotics pills to be offered in clinics and pharmacies, but it shows the important potential waiting to be discovered in nature. "We'll see where it goes from here", he said.
They're now working to boost the drug's effectiveness so that perhaps it could be developed into a treatment for humans - but that could take a while.
It is also a promising sign that this new class follows closely after the 2015 discovery of teixobactin.