New antibiotic sources found in human microbiome + SIDS caused by gene/milk defect?

Scientists Found New Antibiotic Molecules—Right In the Human Microbiome

INTRO: The human microbiome is the dark matter of biology: we know it’s there and critically balances health from disease. We can broadly examine microbe members with advanced DNA sequencing methods and infer their species makeup. With several doses of antibiotics, we can even observe what happens when we temporarily lose our trillions of symbiotic microbugs. Spoiler: the results, ranging from depressive symptoms to upset guts, aren’t pretty.

Yet despite 15 years of research, the human microbiome remains a mysterious ecosystem invisibly thriving on our skin, guts, mouths, and private areas. A single microbiome can contain several dozens of species of microbes, co-existing in intermingled jumbles and chemically communicating with each other—and us—through a variety of biomolecules, the identities of most yet unknown.

This week, a study led by Dr. Mohamed Donia from Princeton University pushed the dark microbiome world into the light by targeting the core marker of their individual identity: DNA. Combining a new computational algorithm with synthetic biology, the team developed a platform that scours the microbiome genome for genes that encode drug-like molecules.

An initial bioprospecting screen identified a handful of molecules with powerful antibiotic properties, some remarkably similar to those readily used in the clinic. But this proof-of-concept is just the start; many more life-saving chemicals could be silently waiting inside our microbial dark matter.

“It is amazing to think that the human microbiome has genes to make countless complex chemicals, but we don’t know what those chemicals are,” said Dr. Eric Schmidt, a chemist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, who did not participate in the study.

We’re looking at “an unprecedented resource for drug discovery from within the human body,” the authors said. (MORE)

Sudden infant death syndrome down to gene deficiency which prevents milk being digested in some babies

INTRO: Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) may be caused by a defective gene which prevents babies digesting milk, a breakthrough study has found. Scientists said some of the roughly 200 UK babies who die unexpectedly from the condition each year could have suffered fatal cardiac arrests because they cannot break down fat. SIDS, also known as “cot death”, is particularly devastating for parents because often experts are unable to determine a cause of death.

Published in Nature Communications, the laboratory study is the first time a plausible causal link between a genetic anomaly and some instances of the syndrome has been drawn. It opens the door for scientists to one day test babies in the womb for the deficiency and possibly even treat it. The researchers said a mutation of the HADHA gene leaves babies unable to metabolize lipids, molecules that include fats, cholesterol and fatty acids, meaning they can die suddenly at just a few weeks old.

According to the NHS, other causes of SIDS may be low birthweight, breathing obstruction, or environmental stresses such as tobacco smoke, although health leaders recognise that the evidence is far from clear. Dr Jason Miklas, who led the study at Stanford University, said: “If a child has a mutation, depending on the mutation the first few months of life can be very scary as the child may die suddenly. An autopsy wouldn't necessarily pick up why the child passed but we think it might be due to the infant's heart stopping to beat." (MORE)

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