Though penicillin was once a miracle cure for bacterial infections ranging from syphilis to staph, it is slowly becoming obsolete.
Bacteria are evolving antibiotic resistance, and medicine is racing to keep up by producing new and different forms of the drug. Penicillin and its derivatives come from a fungus called Penicillium chrysogenum. It's been difficult for scientists to cultivate better strains of the fungus because it reproduces asexually — thus limiting its genetic diversity.
But now this is hope, and it comes directly from sex. A team of researchers have documented an experiment in which they induced sexual reproduction in P. chrysogenum. Having a sexual fungus would allow them to cross promising strains to create potentially new derivatives of penicillin in the war on antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The researchers have already produced new genetic traits in the offspring of the now-sexual mold. These are traits they say could help in the quest for new medicines.
In their paper, published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers write:
Not only that, but the researchers speculate that this sexualization of fungus can be used in other "asexual fungi of economic importance," which means their breakthrough has broad applications.
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