Streptomyces/Actinomyces 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, these bacteria 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 also 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.
These are a collection of Streptomyces/Actinomyces strains that I foraged from Old Down Wood (a local woodland in Hampshire) in order to identify novel antimicrobial compounds.
One of the other remarkable properties of these bacteria is their potent and effecting smell. They smell divine, and each one slightly different, but all distinctively of the earth and of forests. In the laboratory, each inhalation gives me an incredible and almost visceral sense of wellbeing and connection to the natural world. It’s almost a psychoactive experience, and very addictive, and I have a very strong sense that my mood is being manipulated by these apparently simple lifeforms, for the better, and I am content with this.