Dirty meds

The world desperately needs new drugs. In the decades since our discovery of antibiotics, disease-causing bacteria have evolved to resist them; at least 23,000 people die in the U.S. each year due to untreatable infections. Fortunately, a pair of local researchers may have found the answer right in our backyard. They’ve identified one potentially game-changing, resistance-proof antibiotic. And they think they’ve also figured out a way to find more.

Kim Lewis, director of Northeastern University’s Antimicrobial Discovery Center, has been leading the effort to find a new class of antibiotics in New England’s dirt, where “microorganisms live in a very crowded environment,” he says. To fight one another for territory, these soil-dwelling microbes use chemical weapons against each other—weapons that humans can theoretically harness.