Microbiology Today May 2004

Microbes have long been associated with drugs. The introduction of antibacterial agents, chemical disinfectants and antiseptics had already made significant improvements in public health, long before the famous discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming in the 1920s. Later developments brought antiviral and antifungal drugs, and studies of the immune system highlighted the promise offered by host defence peptides. Now genomics is helping in the quest for new drugs. This issue of Microbiology Today takes a close look at the close relationship that microbes have with a wide range of drugs - from antimicrobials to narcotics.

Antimicrobials - where next?
The need for new drugs to meet the challenges posed by superbugs is well known. David Payne, from the Microbial, Musculoskeletal & Proliferative Diseases Centre of Excellence for Drug Discovery at GlaxoSmithKline in Pennsylvania, USA, shows that genomics may not provide all the answers.

Antiviral drugs - a short history of their discovery and development
As it became obvious in the 1940s that viruses were not susceptible to 'antibiotics', it was believed there would be no effective treatments to combat viral infections. Hugh Field, Centre for Veterinary Science at the University of Cambridge, and Erik De Clercq of the Rega Institute for Medical Research, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, explain how things changed when interferon was first described in 1957. Since then, scientists have made great progress in developing effective antiviral drugs. A selection of antiviral compound structures is included in this article. A more complete set of structures is included here .

Live and let die
The risks of antibacterial resistance developing from the use of biocides in the home and in hospitals may well have been overstated. As a consequence, health and hygiene are being compromised argue Peter Gilbert and Andrew McBain, from the School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Manchester.

New drugs by manipulating Streptomyces genes
Now that the 'Golden Age' of antibiotics is over, scientists are developing different strategies to make new drugs. David Hopwood, John Innes Centre in Norwich, describes how genetic engineering is playing a role in the search for new antibiotics from Streptomyces.

Microbial narcotics
People have long exploited microbes for their ability to metabolise and transform chemical compounds, and narcotics are no different. Alkaloid narcotics, such as heroin, morphine and cocaine, are attracting the attention of microbiological researchers and Deborah Rathbone and Neil Bruce, from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) at the University of York, describe some of the interesting applications offered by the results.

Host defence peptides
Host defence peptides (HDPs) are a diverse group of small peptides effective against a range of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Interest in their biology has increased enormously in the last 10 years, as Deirdre Devine, from the University of Leeds Dental Institute, explains. Not only are these peptides antimicrobial, but they have also emerged as exciting multifunctional components of the immune system.

Structural pathogenomics
Defining the structure of proteins implicated in pathogenesis requires a multidisciplinary effort. Ian Boucher, Jim Brannigan, Claudia Schnick and Mark Fogg, from the Structural Biology Laboratory at the University of York, explain how the structural genomics community is helping to speed up the development of effective control measures for many life-threatening infections, by providing open access to their work.

Comment - Cold rush for drugs?
The search for new drugs and therapies has turned to more unusual sources, with plants and microbes living in extreme environments under close scrutiny. A wide variety of microbes live in the icy wastes of Antarctica and Nick Russell, Imperial College London, believes that exploiting their commercial applications may not be in the interests of protecting this unique environment.

Hot off the Press highlights some new developments in microbiological research published in the Society's journals - Microbiology, Journal of General Virology, International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology and Journal of Medical Microbiology. Topics covered include:

  • Silent defence
  • New antibiotics from the rain forests
  • A 'harmless' killer
  • An end to red tides?
  • Antibiotic resistance and bile
  • Another step towards a cervical cancer vaccine
  • A novel species of Mycobacterium involved in non-tuberculous lung disease

Other items include:

Last updated 26 July 2004