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Lecture with: Dr. Michael Tsakos, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece (Host: Thomas B. Poulsen)

Title: Symbiosis-inspired natural product synthesis

13.11.2018 | Susan Hjort Skyum

Dato ons 21 nov
Tid 15:15 16:00
Sted 1514-213, Aarhus Universitet, Institut for Kemi, Aud. I, Langelandsgade 140, 8000 Aarhus C

It has been 90 years, almost to date, since Sir Alexander Fleming serendipitously discovered that a mold called Penicillium, which had contaminated his unwashed petri dishes, could prevent the normal growth of staphylococci. It is common knowledge that this discovery marks a true turning point in human history since it revolutionized medicine by introducing the first broad spectrum antibiotic to the world. However, what is far less known, is that in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1945 Sir Alexander Fleming presciently warned that the overuse of penicillin might lead to bacterial resistance. Now, 70 years after Sir Fleming’s prediction, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) poses a serious threat to global public health [1] and humanity is facing entry to a post-antibiotic era, where deaths from everyday infections will once again become a reality. Furthermore, in spite of the urgent need for new antibiotics effective against multi-drug resistant organisms, the so called “superbugs”, the pharmaceutical industry, mainly, and the scientific community have been “dragging their heels” due to the meagre financial incentives linked to antibiotic development, with only two (!) new classes of antibiotics being marketed in the last 50 years [2].

Loosely put, symbiosis describes any kind of interaction between two organisms, a host and a guest, and it can be beneficial or detrimental. Humans host trillions of microorganisms that live on and in our bodies, collectively referred to as the human microbiota, which exert a profound influence in both health and disease states [3]. In this type of symbioses (between a host and a microorganism such as a bacterium or fungus) the norm is that the microbe generates bioactive secondary metabolites that impact the host, and the relationship is primarily directed by the genetic machineries accessible to the small molecule producer. Given that these highly refined relationships have been evolutionarily optimized, we reckon that symbiosis-driven drug discovery efforts may provide an untapped wealth of novel bioactive compounds.


[1] World Health Organization, Global action plan on antimicrobial resistance, 2018 www.who.int/antimicrobial-resistance/global-action-plan/en/

[2] A. R. M. Coates et al, Novel classes of antibiotics or more of the same? Br. J. Pharmacol. 2011, 163, 184.

[3] B. Wang et al, The human microbiota in health and disease. Engineering, 2017, 3, 71.

Institut for Kemi, Medarbejdere, Offentligheden / Pressen