The super-intelligent bacteria that could unlock drugs

Written by Matthew Matheson, CNN

Now that the scientific community has come to terms with the recent discovery of super-intelligent microscopic organisms in Earth’s crust, they are turning their attention to Scotland.

If proven, the microscopic organisms would provide a staggering array of interesting applications, from making antifreeze to creating tools for deep-sea exploration. But one of the most exciting areas of interest is pharmaceuticals.

For its latest study, researchers visited a lab in Proctor and Gamble’s laboratory near Glasgow and used state-of-the-art instruments to sift through two million compounds discovered at a Scottish sea level research outpost.

Now the Scottish Government hopes to build on the research to find out if the relatively compact-size of their “ingemas” might hold the key to producing vaccines and medicines much more cheaply than current methods.

Global scale

Ingemas are among the oldest living microorganisms. The key difference is their density.

A microscopic termagant called Notgl3 is working on ways to treat malaria, HIV and other infectious diseases. Credit: Proctor and Gamble’s Science and Technology Research Institute

Sebastian Bruce, chief executive of the research institute, described its recent find as “pioneering.” “The task at hand is to translate this breakthrough into a commercial product and new medicines for patients around the world,” he said.

It appears the research team discovered compounds that could be useful in fighting infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV. Bruce believes the bioluminescent compounds could also be used to carry out early diagnosis of diseases, without the need for a blood sample, or even a patient’s finger stick.

One of the substances identified is called Notgl3 , which has been shown to work in solutions containing certain bioluminescent molecules in a variety of mammals.

Such compounds should be able to be produced in small quantities at low costs, and could “support a civilian biomedical manufacturing industry on a global scale” he said.

“These compounds could be used as ingredients in a spray that would be attached to clothes, so that if you go into a typhoon, these zig-zag lines in the hair could detect when there’s a tropical storm about to hit,” Bruce said.

“What if you used it to test for heart failure in infants, or for malaria in children? These are the types of applications that this research could lead to.”

Bruce believes the development could also play a major role in combating climate change. “There are many, many, many applications,” he said. “The application in the field that could make the most difference is in the field of biofuels and biofuels fuel production. Many of the microbes that make this polybutylene polymer in the oceans, which is what makes containers, things like that biodegrade, they also need a propellant for the slurry to be able to go through our systems.”

Each of these compounds could “potentially contribute to the movement of billions of gallons of petroleum,” he said.

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