Posted on: February 24, 2020 at 11:25 am

Artificial intelligence (AI) has proved to be a useful ally in the battle against antibiotic resistance. A powerful antibiotic that’s even able to kill superbugs has been discovered thanks to a machine-learning algorithm 

Advertisement

Researchers from MIT used a novel computer algorithm to sift through a vast digital archive of over 100 million chemical compounds and spot those that were able to kill bacteria using different mechanisms from existing drugs. 

Reported in the journal Cell, this method highlighted a molecule that appeared to possess some truly remarkable antibiotic properties. The team named the molecule halicin, a hat tip to the sentient AI system “Hal” from Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Advertisement

When tested in mice, halicin was able to effectively treat tuberculosis and drug-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, the family of bacteria that includes E. coli and Salmonella. It also proved extremely effective against Clostridium difficile, a “stomach bug” that often sweeps through hospitals, and another drug-resistant bacterium that can cause infections of the blood, urinary tract, and lungs. 

Our approach revealed this amazing molecule which is arguably one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered,” James Collins, the Termeer Professor of Medical Engineering and Science in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and Department of Biological Engineering, said in a statement

Strangest of all, this potent antibiotic is structurally not like any other antibiotic seen before. If it were up to just humans, it’s very likely this antibiotic would not have been discovered at all because it looks so unusual. 

This groundbreaking work signifies a paradigm shift in antibiotic discovery and indeed in drug discovery more generally,” added Roy Kishony, a professor of biology and computer science at Technion (the Israel Institute of Technology), who was not involved in the study. 

Following the success of halicin, the team returned to the database and used the AI algorithm to sniff out more potential candidates. Within just three days, it identified 23 candidates that were structurally dissimilar to existing antibiotics and non-toxic to human cells. Later tests proved at least eight of these molecules had antibacterial properties, and two were particularly powerful.

All of these candidates could turn out to be invaluable tools for tackling superbugs and antibiotic-resistant infections. Due to the overuse of antibiotics, some potentially dangerous bacteria have evolved drug resistance, making them extremely tricky to treat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently estimate that at least 2.8 million people get an antibiotic-resistant infection each year in the US and more than 35,000 people die from one. This is a trend that’s not going to stop any time soon as more and more bacteria gain resistance to conventional drugs. 

Advertisement

Thankfully, as this study shows, AI could help researchers expand our current arsenal of antibiotics and keep this problem at bay.

Shared with permission from our friends at IFL Science.

Advertisement
IFL Science
Science News
We're here for the science - the funny side of science. Quotes, jokes, memes and anything your admin finds awesome and strange. If you take yourself seriously, you're on the wrong page. We're dedicated to bringing the amazing world of science straight to your newsfeed in an amusing and accessible way.

A Special Message From Our Founders


Use Superfoods as Medicine e-book

Over the past few years of working with health experts all over the world, there’s one major insight we’ve learned.

You don’t have to rely on expensive medications for the rest of your lives.

Most health problems can often be resolved with a good diet, exercise and a few powerful superfoods. In fact, we’ve gone through hundreds of scientific papers and ‘superfood’ claims and only selected the top 5% that are:

  • Backed by scientific research
  • Affordable
  • Simple to use

We then put this valuable information into the Superfood as Medicine Guide: a 100+ page guide on the 7 most powerful superfoods available, including:

  • Exact dosages for every health ailment
  • DIY recipes to create your own products
  • Simple recipes