September 4, 2018

“Finding the next antibiotics: Putting evolutionary theory into practice” (2016)

Seed Grant in Pathogenic and Commensal Organisms

PIs are Adrian Smith, Clint Penick, Stephanie Mathews, and Margarita Lopez-Uribe, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and North Carolina State University. The first antibiotic was discovered by famous accident when Alexander Fleming observed a zone of bacterial inhibition around a culture of Penicillium notatum, the source of penicillin. Since that time, the search for new antibiotics has relied on similar, though industrialized methods to screen for species that produce antibiotic compounds. This approach requires screening large numbers of species, most of which are unlikely to yield effective antibiotics. Instead, we propose a more targeted approach focused on social insects. By living in densely populated groups, social insects have been dealt with pathogen challenges similar to humans during their 150 million year evolution and offer insights into pathogen control and new antimicrobials. This proposal is for developing an antimicrobial assay to compare antimicrobial strength among social insect species. We will test multiple ant species to determine what ecological and evolutionary traits (i.e. evolutionary history, nesting biology, and life history) are drivers of novel antimicrobial evolution.This approach will target future research in discovery of new antibiotics as well as mechanisms for selection of antimicrobial production in social insects.

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