back to article AI menaces superbug by identifying potent antibiotic

Neural networks have helped scientists to develop an antibiotic capable of fighting a highly resistant superbug commonly found in hospitals. The bug is called Acinetobacter baumannii and it is insidious. "Acinetobacter can survive on hospital doorknobs and equipment for a week or longer, and can take up antibiotic resistance …

  1. mpi Silver badge

    That is wonderful news.

    The problem is, against any antibiotic we come up with, nature can develop a countermeasure. Such is the capability of limitless structural diversity of proteins.

    Superbugs don't arise because our antibiotics suck, they arise because we overuse antibiotics, by feeding them to our livestock:

    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2023/apr/25/use-of-antibiotics-in-farming-endangering-human-immune-system

    And that's a vicious cycle. The more we do that, the quicker resistent strains arise, so we feed more and stronger antibiotics, which again creates a test-bed for even better adapted strains to arise, etc.

    There is a solution of course, and new antibiotics are a part of that. But an even bigger help, would be to stop and think about if we really need to raise and slaughter billions of animals per year, or if it would be enough to have meat on the table maybe once or twice a week. Added bonus: It also help fight climate change, uses up way less water, and we waste less calories by using human edible produce as animal feed.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Boffin

      The problem is, against any antibiotic we come up with, nature can develop a countermeasure. Such is the capability of limitless structural diversity of proteins.

      In the paper they managed to promote and then characterise some strains with resistance to Abaucin, so they know exactly what to look for if this enters the clinic.

    2. garwhale Bronze badge

      Only some countries allow feeding antibiotics to cattle for prophylaxis, others do not. Some antibiotics used are not approved for human use. Eating less meat has many benefits, but is not necessarily connected to antibiotic use.

      Antibiotic resistance can also arise naturally; many antibiotics are found in nature, for example penicillin.

      Resistance can also arise when human patients receive antibiotics for viral infections or when they do not otherwise need them.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Resistance can also arise when human patients receive antibiotics for viral infections or when they do not otherwise need them.

        Very true. I was just reading an old Derek Lowe post where he cited a source stating that a large majority of antibiotic prescriptions in the US were for non-bacterial conditions. Patients demand them, and it's not worth the liability for doctors to refuse them. It's a big problem.

        Lowe suggests putting more research into antibiotics that target host pathways the pathogens use, since the selection pressures for overcoming those are lower. A pathogen that evolves to target a different pathway will eventually outcompete ones that don't and those that pick up the change (through the various mechanisms by which prokaryotes distribute genetic material) will be more successful at reproduction, but the vulnerable ones won't be killed off immediately.

        That said, new antibiotics of whatever sort are welcome, particularly when research on them has diminished because they're much less profitable than drugs which patients take routinely for years (e.g. statins, anticoagulants).

  2. alain williams Silver badge

    Please ONLY use this in humans

    Too many antibiotics have been used in farming as it makes the animals healthier & they grow a bit faster. The result is that the bugs evolve to be antibiotic resistant. If we only use this new compound in humans the rate of evolution of a resistant strain will take much longer.

    I am species-ist I would rather see cattle & poultry die than humans.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Please ONLY use this in humans

      While routine use of agricultural antibiotics should be banned – and many countries have done so – overuse by humans is at least as big a problem. From what I've read, there actually isn't a lot of evidence of antibiotic resistance in livestock transferring to common human pathogens, but there's plenty for developing antibiotic resistance in pathogens already in people.

    2. JoeCool Bronze badge

      Re: Please ONLY use this in humans

      It's not like the livestock are demanding the meds ! you're actually anti- free market.

  3. ThatOne Silver badge
    Joke

    > lipoprotein trafficking

    Isn't that illegal?

    1. Zippy´s Sausage Factory
      Coat

      Depends whether the lipoproteins have a licence or not. They're unlikely to exceed the speed limit, though, the way they move.

      I'll get me coat.

    2. Allan George Dyer

      Build a Cell Wall!

      Build a Cell Wall!

      (politically inappropriate? No, just a plant)

  4. bofh1961

    AI to save the world!

    Finally, proof that AI is the benevolent, omniscient and omnipotent saviour that mankind has been waiting for!

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: AI to save the world!

      Not that there's anything even remotely "AI" about this. It's straight-up, well-understood, conventional machine learning. "AI" is just the tiresome buzzword of the day.

    2. JoeCool Bronze badge

      Re: AI to save the world!

      Oh yes, I have been looking forward to this for some time. Now they just need to develop tha AI to verify the biologics that are too hard for humans to decipher.

  5. Korev Silver badge
    IT Angle

    And the IT angle is that VMWare now occupy the site where this molecule was originally synthesised.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A mouse study!

    Countless mouse studies never pan out and if they do it took a long amount of time and a lot of money.

  7. Francis Boyle

    Two hours

    Pah. I'm sure Spock could do it in one!

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