Deadly superbug slaughtered using AI technology

According to a new survey published last week, scientists have discovered a new antibiotic that can kill a deadly superbug by using artificial intelligence (AI).

Published in the online journal Nature Chemical Biology, a study shows a group of scientists from McMaster University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have discovered a new antibiotic, known as Acinetobacter baumannii, that can be used to kill a deadly hospital superbug.

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Researchers used an AI algorithm to screen thousands of antibacterial molecules in an attempt to predict new structural classes. As a result of the AI screening, researchers were able to identify a new antibacterial compound which they named abaucin.

Following this, scientists used the model to analyse over 6,000 compounds. This examination produced several hundred compounds, 240 of which were then tested in a lab.

Johnathan Stokes, an Assistant Professor at McMaster University, said: ‘This work validates the benefits of machine learning in the search for new antibiotics.

‘Using AI, we can rapidly explore vast regions of chemical space, significantly increasing the chances of discovering fundamentally new antibacterial molecules.

‘We know broad-spectrum antibiotics are suboptimal and that pathogens have the ability to evolve and adjust to every trick we throw at them […] AI methods afford us the opportunity to vastly increase the rate at which we discover new antibiotics, and we can do it at a reduced cost. This is an important avenue of exploration for new antibiotic drugs.’

The superbug poses a threat to hospitals, nursing homes and patients who require ventilators and blood catheters, as well as those who have open wounds from surgeries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) have stated the bug is a ‘critical’ and outlines the bacteria have built-in abilities to find new ways to resist treatment and can pass along genetic material that allows other bacteria to become drug resistant.  

Whilst the superbug has been found to live for prolonged periods of time on environmental surfaces and shared equipment and can cause infections in urinary tracts and lungs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted the bacteria can live in a patient without causing infections or symptoms. 

Image: Adi Goldstein


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