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AI Has Uncovered Susprising Potential New Antibiotics to Combat Drug Resistance

Imagine you’re a fossil hunter. You spend months in the heat of Arizona digging up bones only to find that what you’ve uncovered is from a previously discovered dinosaur.

That’s how the search for antibiotics has panned out recently. The relatively few antibiotic hunters out there keep finding the same types of antibiotics.

With the rapid rise in drug resistance in many pathogens, new antibiotics are desperately needed. It may be only a matter of time before a wound or scratch becomes life-threatening.

Yet few new antibiotics have entered the market of late, and even these are just minor variants of old antibiotics.

While the prospects look bleak, the recent revolution in artificial intelligence (AI) offers new hope. In a study published on Feb. 20 in the journal Cell, scientists from MIT and Harvard used a type of AI called deep learning to discover new antibiotics.

The traditional way of discovering antibiotics – from soil or plant extracts – has not revealed new candidates, and there are many social and economic hurdles to solving this problem, as well.

Some scientists have recently tried to tackle it by searching the DNA of bacteria for new antibiotic-producing genes. Others are looking for antibiotics in exotic locations such as in our noses.

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