Don't Fear the Bacteria

Bacteria often get a bad reputation as microorganisms that cause pathology in humans among other things.  Now, not to say that bacteria do not cause great trouble in our society, but there are bacteria out there that we, as humans, can take advantage of.  This is the case for Streptomyces griseus, as we have been able to purify the compounds it secretes to protect itself and in turn use it for our own ends to purge ourselves of dangerous threats.

This image shows how treatment can eliminate an infection but also how drug resistant bacteria can pose huge health risks.  (Provided by The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Streptomyces griseus itself has yielded to us a golden antibiotic called streptomycin.  Antibiotics are used to fight a number of infections, including the deadly necrotizing fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria).  To find out more about this organism follow this link.  Flesh eating bacteria.  Anyway, streptomycin was the first drug to successfully counteract tuberculosis, which was an important step forward in medicine, since before this tuberculosis was not only extremely contagious, but very often fatal.  However, as the image on the left suggests, there have been out breaks of drug resistant tuberculosis.  This simply means that streptomycin in this case would either not work, or have a reduced effect which would allow the disease to progress.  Going on a slight tangent here, Streptomyces griseus can be imagined as creating this streptomycin that either kills bacteria or at the very least keeps them away.  This can be thought of like poison ivy and us but obviously the poison ivy would not be able to kill us, but we would sure try to avoid it if we saw the plant.

Now, up to this point we haven't directly discussed how these defenses work for Streptomyces griseus or how they help us get rid of deadly bacteria in our own systems.  Streptomycin works through binding the ribosomes of the bacteria cells and disrupting protein formation.  As you can imagine, once the cell is unable to synthesize proteins its life is very short lived.  This method works both for the opposing bacteria in the soil and in the raging tuberculosis inside diseased humans.

All is not exactly well for humans using this antibiotic however.  As with most drugs, there are side effects.  The main one for streptomycin is possibly ototoxicity, which means damage to the ears.

Last but not least, I'll discuss some other interesting information about Streptomyces griseus and its prized streptomycin.  With this, one of the other main antibiotics is penicillin, which revolutionized medicine.

Bacteria and You