Your nose is a battleground. Just like your mouth or gut, it’s full of microbes. But while those other organs are regularly flooded with food, the nose is a wasteland. Resources are scarce there, and competition is fierce, so nasal microbes have evolved many ways of outclassing and killing each other. And by raiding their arsenals, we could gain new weapons for our own use.
Alexander Zipperer and Martin Konnerth from the University of Tübingen have found one such weapon—a chemical called lugdunin. It has all the makings of a good antibiotic. It’s produced by a bacterium that already lives in our noses, which suggests that it’s safe. It kills another microbe, Staphylococcus aureus, a common and typically harmless inhabitant of the nose. It even kills S. aureus when it’s dressed in its antibiotic-resistant alter-ego, MRSA. And it’s chemically unrelated to existing antibiotics, which opens the door to other new drugs. “It is the founding member of a new class of antimicrobial compounds,” says Andreas Peschel, who led the study.
It will take years to see if this new chemical will work in the clinic, and many similar promising leads have fizzled out. But right now, we need every lead we can get. For decades, pharmaceutical companies have failed to take any new classes of antibiotics to market. Meanwhile, many disease-causing bacteria have evolved to resist our existing weapons, and these impervious strains are predicted to kill 10 million people every year by 2050. To avert an antibiotic apocalypse, we need new drugs.