Amazing Discovery: Medicine-Making Microbes Found in Dirt Beneath New York City
Researchers from the Rockefeller University have discovered genetic traces of bacteria capable of making compounds that can be used in making medicine in soil samples dug up in the parks of New York City.
Their findings, described in a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed the abundance of genetically diverse microbiome in the dirt beneath New York.
"By sequencing and analyzing genes within soil samples, we found the genetic instructions for making a wide range of natural products that have the potential to become treatments for various conditions, from cancer to bacterial or fungal infections, or that are already being used as drugs," explained Sean F. Brady, the Evnin Associate Professor and head of Rockefeller's Laboratory of Genetically Encoded Small Molecules abd senior author of the study, in a press release.
For the study, the researchers collected 275 soil samples of different variety of ecosystem within the New York City's park system. The small amounts of top soil collected were sent to Barnard College to have the DNA isolated. The samples were then transferred to Rockefeller to decode the precise genetic sequences found in the samples.
By comparing the samples to those known nonribosomal peptides and polyketides, the researchers discovered that the diversity of New York City is not limited above ground. In a single sample from Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the researchers found genes that likely to encode 25 molecules that have been studied for potential use as antibiotics and other types of medicine.
Additionally, the researchers found a set of 11 representative compounds discovered elsewhere in the world, including the antibiotic erythromycin from the Philippines and the antifungal agent natamycin from South Africa. The researchers noted that only less than one percent of the molecule-encoding sequences in their soil samples matched up with the known genes to which the researchers compared them to, suggesting that there are still may yet to be identified genes buried beneath New York City that are likely to have some medical applications.