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Just Look Within

New drugs may be lurking within the human microbiome. The University of California, San Francisco's Michael Fischbach and his colleagues uncovered some 3,120 small-molecule biosynthetic gene clusters within the genomes of bacteria that make up the human microbiome.

As they report in Cell, they then examined how common these clusters are by determining their frequency within 750 metagenomic samples from the NIH Human Microbiome Project. These clusters, Fischbach and his colleagues found, are fairly common, especially in the gut and oral microbiomes.

In particular, they isolated lactocillin, a thiopeptide antibiotic, from bacteria in the vaginal microbiota and found it acts as an antibiotic against a range of Gram-positive vaginal pathogens.

"Antibiotics are not the only things [this] technique might turn up, for the bugs in the human microbiome spit out all sorts of other chemicals that could potentially be put to use as drugs," the Economist notes, adding that neurotransmitters and immune regulators also appear to be produced by the microbiome.

Additionally, it says that the bacteria themselves could be used as treatments. "In the future, I don't think we will leave which bacteria live in our bodies to chance," Fischbach tells the Economist.