BioProspecting for art, antibiotics and cancer cures:

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Streptomyces are a species of bacteria commonly found in soil. Being metabolically diverse they are able to utilize many different types of compounds and are thus vitally important for the ecology of soil, and indeed, much of the characteristic earthy smell of healthy soils arises from chemicals emitted by this species. Beyond this, Streptomyces are the largest group of antibiotic producing bacteria in the microbial world, producing the majority of antibiotics used in human medicine, and with some of their compounds giving rise to cancer therapies. Despite this, the number of new antimicrobial compounds reported to have been isolated from this group has declined in recent years and is predicted to fall to zero in the next 1-2 decades. The Streptomyces, as a group, are predicted to be capable of producing at least 100,000 antibiotics, and only a minute fraction of this therapeutic diversity has been unearthed so far. The reduction in reports describing new antibiotics arising from these bacteria is due then to a decline in screening efforts rather than due an exhaustion of their compounds. This is a dry run for a project where artists would be encouraged and empowered, so that they could prospect their local environments for Streptomyces species, with the aim of revealing these beautiful but overlooked bacteria, perhaps discovering new antibiotics, and reinvigorating scientific interest in them. These isolates of Streptomyces, come from a local haunt, Old Down Wood and confirm the suitability of the isolation process.

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