Skip to main content
Log in

Are antibiotics naturally antibiotics?

  • Review
  • Published:
Journal of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology

Abstract

Antibiotics have been used for more than 50 years and are the cornerstone of infectious disease treatment; in addition, these low-molecular-weight bioactive compounds have been applied to many other therapeutic purposes. However, there is almost no information on the evolutionary biology or ecology of naturally occurring low-molecular-weight compounds. The large number of different structural types and the extremely broad range of biological activities of organic molecules produced by microbes raise many questions concerning their roles in nature. Recent evidence for the enormous complexity of microbial populations in the environment favors the notion that the principal roles of small molecules in microbial ecology are cell–cell communication and not antibiosis.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Fig. 1

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  1. Baath E (1998) Growth rates of bacterial communities in soils at varying pH; a comparison of the thymidine and leucine incorporation techniques. Microb Ecol 36:316–327

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Bauer WD, Mathesius U (2004) Plant responses to bacterial quorum sensing signals. Curr Opin Plant Biol 7:429–433

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Bentley SD, Chater KF, Cerdeno-Tarraga AM, Challis GL, Thomson NR, James KD, Harris DE, Quail MA, Kieser H, Harper D, Bateman A, Brown S, Chandra G, Chen CW, Collins M, Cronin A, Fraser A, Goble A, Hidalgo J, Hornsby T, Howarth S, Huang CH, Kieser T, Larke L, Murphy L, Oliver K, O’Neil S, Rabbinowitsch E, Rajandream MA, Rutherford K, Rutter S, Seeger K, Saunders D, Sharp S, Squares R, Squares S, Taylor K, Warren T, Wietzorrek A, Woodward J, Barrell BG, Parkhill J, Hopwood DA (2002) Complete sequence of the model actinomycete Streptomyces coelicolor A3(2). Nature 417:141–147

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bergsma-Vlami M, Prins ME, Raaijmakers JM (2005) Influence of plant species on population dynamics, genotypic diversity and antibiotic production in the rhizosphere by indigenous Pseudomonas spp. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 52:59–69

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Calabrese EJ, Blain R (2005) The occurrence of hormetic dose responses in the toxicological literature, the hormesis database: an overview. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 202:289–301

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Chadwick DJ, Whelan J (eds) (1992) Secondary metabolites, their function and evolution. Ciba Foundation Symposium 171. Wiley, Chichester

  7. Davies J (2004) Actinomycetes and beyond. Microbiol Aust 25:8–10

    Google Scholar 

  8. Demain AL, Davies JE (eds) (1999) Manual of industrial microbiology and biotechnology. ASM Press, Washington, DC, pp 21–95, 103–113

  9. Emmert EAB, Klimowicz AK, Thomas MG, Handelsman J (2004) Genetics of zwittermicin A production by Bacillus cereus. Appl Environ Microbiol 70:104–113

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Goh EB, Yim G, Tsui W, McClure J, Surette MG, Davies J (2002). Transcriptional modulation of bacterial gene expression by subinhibitory concentrations of antibiotics. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 99:17025–17030

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Madigan MT, Martinko JM, Parker J (1997) Brock biology of microorganisms, 8th edn. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River

    Google Scholar 

  12. Maplestone RA, Stone MJ, Williams DH (1992) The evolutionary role of secondary metabolites—a review. Gene 115:151–157

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. McFall-Ngai MJ, Henderson B, Ruby EG (eds) (2005) The influence of cooperative bacteria on animal host biology. Cambridge University Press, New York

  14. McPhee JB, Hancock RE (2005) Function and therapeutic potential of host defence peptides. J Pept Sci 11:677–687

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Mueller UG, Gerardo N (2002) Fungus-farming insects: multiple origins and diverse evolutionary histories. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 99:15247–15249

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Parsek MR, Greenberg EP (2005) Sociomicrobiology: the connections between quorum sensing and biofilms. Trends Microbiol 13:27–33

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Shiner EK, Rumbaugh KP, Williams SC (2005) Interkingdom signaling: deciphering the language of acyl homoserine lactones. FEMS Microbiol Rev 29:935–947

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Tsui WH, Yim G, Wang HH, McClure JE, Surette MG, Davies J (2004) Dual effects of MLS antibiotics: transcriptional modulation and interactions on the ribosome. Chem Biol 11:1307–1316

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Ueda K, Kawai S, Ogawa H, Kiyama H, Kubota T, Kawanobe H, Beppu T (2000) Wide distribution of interspecific stimulatory events on antibiotic production and sporulation among Streptomyces species. J Antibiot 53:979–982

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Visick KL, Fuqua C (2005) Decoding microbial chatter: cell–cell communication in bacteria. J Bacteriol 187:5507–5519

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Waksman SA (1961) The role of antibiotics in nature. In: Perspectives in biology and medicine, vol IV, pp 271–286

Download references

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank the students in my UBC laboratory and the many colleagues with whom I have discussed the topics in this paper; some are believers. Also, I recognize the generosity of pharmaceutical companies who have provided compounds for unrestricted use in my laboratory. The experimental studies described were generously supported by the Canadian Bacterial Diseases Network, the Canadian Institute for Health Research, and the National Science and Engineering Research Council (Canada).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julian Davies.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Davies, J. Are antibiotics naturally antibiotics?. J IND MICROBIOL BIOTECHNOL 33, 496–499 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10295-006-0112-5

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10295-006-0112-5

Keywords

Navigation