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Scientists map genome of a bacterium that produces many natural antibiotics

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British scientists have completed a genetic map of a common soil bacterium, a step that could help scientists develop new antibiotics and other medicines.

Bacteria called Streptomyces are used to make most antibiotics and many other naturally produced compounds, including anti-cancer agents. Scientists, however, do not know precisely how these germs operate.

In the new work, scientists completed the genetic map of Streptomyces coelicolor, a well-studied representative of the bacterial family.

The map, which took five years to complete, provides clues to the bacterium's mechanism and will help scientists find new antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs, the researchers said.

Details were published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature by a research team led by David A. Hopwood of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, England.

Hopwood's team found that Streptomyces coelicolor includes an estimated 7,825 genes, nearly twice as many as other commonly studied bacteria. Humans are believed to have around 32,000 genes.

Chaitan Khosla, a biochemist at Stanford University not connected to the research, called completion of the map a milestone sure to push ahead research on new and more effective medicines.

Studying bacterial genes is nothing new, but many of bacterial genomes already deciphered have been from microbes that cause disease. Last year, for example, British scientists mapped Yersina pestis, which is linked to bubonic plague, the disease that devastated medieval Europe.

Maynard Olson of the University of Washington Genome Center said the map highlights how the bacterium is highly evolved, and not a simple vestige of ancient life. The new work will help in seeking antibiotics to stay ahead of antibiotic resistance, he said.

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