John Rennie has written an absolutely fascinating entry on his blog The Gleaming Retort (which is part of the new PLoS Blogs network) about the search for new sources of antibiotics. He succinctly sets up the increasingly serious problem antibiotic-resistant bacteria present:
Bacteria continue to acquire resistance to antibiotics at a terrifying rate, and pharmaceutical makers have far too few possibilities for effectiveness new replacements in development. So, up to a point, it’s good news this week that at least a couple more novel candidates have turned up—in some of the least sanitary, least likely places one might imagine.
And then he identifies some of the (icky) places – for example, the brains of cockroaches – in which researchers are looking for new antibiotics:
The rationale for the researchers choosing to look inside insect pests for antibiotics seems to be that because cockroaches can thrive in filthy environments, they must have ways to protect themselves against lethal infections. The Nottingham researchers are certainly not the first to have that insight. Insects do have astonishingly sophisticated innate immune systems that are built around antimicrobial compounds; they lack an adaptive immune system, like ours, that manufacture antibodies and lymphocytes against specific invaders.
The entire entry is similarly engaging.