Natural Products Discovery through Microbial Interactions
For the past century, microbiologists have almost exclusively studied bacteria in pure culture, investigating single species in isolation. Yet in natural settings, from the rhizosphere to the mammalian gut, bacterial cells live in complex communities, surrounded by thousands of other microbes. Bacteria are also incredible biochemists, capable of producing extraordinary molecules with functions that range from interspecies communication to all&345;out chemical warfare. Our research seeks to understand these molecular exchanges and exploit them for human benefit. Specifically, our focus is on understanding chemical interactions within a remarkable group of bacteria, the actinomycetes. These bacteria are the single deepest source of clinically relevant natural products, including antibiotics, antifungals, and anticancer agents. Our underlying hypothesis is that microbial interactions stimulate production of natural products in natural settings. Consistent in with this hypothesis, in my postdoctoral research I found that interactions between actinomycetes involve an extremely rich chemical repertoire and provide a robust opportunity for discovering natural products. Discovering novel natural products, including antimicrobials, is a critical goal as the past two decades have seen a dramatic rise in multi-drug resistance among bacterial pathogens. Our perspective, which is rooted in bacterial ecology, chemistry, and physiology, brings a fresh viewpoint to the decades-old pursuit of natural products discovery. Accordingly, we are building a research program that is interdisciplinary, bridging the fields of genomics, mass spectrometry, and bacteriology, to drive natural products discovery.