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Coal Vent Bacteria

February 7, 2017

Scientists discover useful biomedical compounds above a smoldering inferno.



A hot spot for new drugs. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The Ruth Mullins coal mine fire in Kentucky has burned underground for nearly a decade, spreading through abandoned mine shafts. On the smoldering ground above, University of Kentucky researcher Jon Thorson and his colleagues hunt for microbes. In the journal Nature Chemical Biology, they report discovering a novel bacterium that’s helped them produce a more powerful version of the antibiotic daptomycin.  Thorson says drug compounds are difficult to design from scratch.

THORSON (University of Kentucky):

So if you can instead manipulate the natural machinery that generates these molecules, it may provide a really rapid way to do medicinal chemistry.


He says extreme environments force organisms to evolve unusual biochemistry to survive. So it’s in the places that are most hostile to life that bioprospectors like Thorson search for the keys to life-saving drugs. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Story by Bob Hirshon