Vanderbilt researchers use new method to target potentially undiscovered beneficial therapeutic chemicals

By Andy Flick, Evolutionary Studies Initiative scientific coordinator

A team of researchers from the Eichman lab and associated with the Evolutionary Studies Initiative led a project that was recently published in mBio. Graduate student Noah Bradley and undergraduate student Katie Wahl (BA21, BCB) were co-first authors on the work studying chemical compounds produced by bacteria.

Specifically, the group was interested in a suite of chemicals known as natural products. These chemicals are produced by the organism for a specific purpose, but are often valuable because they may be used as antibiotics, anticancer agents, or other therapeutics. As new drug-resistant strains of diseases evolve, the importance of finding new weapons against resistant-diseases is ever increasing.

In this study, the researchers relied on a technique known as genome mining which Bradley describes as a useful tool in identifying gene clusters and natural products they produce. Historically, genome mining targets a specific mechanism used to produce a natural product. However, several mechanisms may produce similar natural products, thus, the team’s approach instead targets  processes that provide bacteria with self-resistance towards a specific type of compound. Specifically, they were interested in mining for gene clusters that produce genotoxic natural products – those that can form a chemical bond to DNA.