Tech UPTechnologyThey discover a powerful antibiotic using artificial intelligence

They discover a powerful antibiotic using artificial intelligence

Antibiotics have been the cornerstone of modern medicine since the discovery of penicillin, but their effectiveness has dramatically decreased in recent years as overuse has caused bacteria to become resistant. Remember that antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria mutate and evolve to evade the mechanisms that antimicrobial drugs use to kill them.

Very few new antibiotics have been developed in recent decades due to the cost and time associated with detection. In fact, most of the recently approved antibiotics are simply minor variants of those that already exist. But something is changing.

Artificial intelligence has proven to be an excellent ally in the battle against antibiotic resistance. Now, a team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has discovered, thanks to a machine learning algorithm, a powerful antibiotic that can even kill superbugs. Its name is halicin and is named after the artificial intelligence HAL 9000 from the 2001 science fiction film: A Space Odyssey.

The MIT researchers used a new computer algorithm to examine a vast digital archive of more than 100 million chemical compounds and detect those that were capable of killing bacteria (specifically E.coli ) using different mechanisms of existing drugs (around 1,700 drugs FDA approved and 800 natural products). Once trained, the model was tested at the Broad Institute’s Drug Reuse Center, which consists of around 6,000 compounds. Among all these compounds, one in particular stood out, a molecule that seemed to possess some remarkable antibiotic properties.


The computer model predicted that this molecule had strong antibacterial properties and a chemical structure that differed from existing antibiotics. Another independent algorithm indicated that it might also have low toxicity to human cells. They named this compound “halicin.”

Through laboratory testing of bacterial samples from patients, halicin was able to kill many bacteria that are resistant to treatments , including Clostridium difficile, Acinetobacter baumannii, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, two of the three high-priority pathogens that the World Organization for Health classifies as “critical”. It was shown to be effective against E. coli, which did not develop resistance to it during a 30-day treatment period in mice.

“In terms of antibiotic discovery, this is an absolute milestone ,” said Regina Barzilay, the project’s principal investigator and a machine learning specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“I think this is one of the most powerful antibiotics that have been discovered to date,” added James Collins, a bioengineer on the MIT team. “It has remarkable activity against a wide range of antibiotic resistant pathogens.”

The scientists intend to dig deeper into the database in order to find antibiotics that are more selective towards the bacteria they kill, in hopes of developing it for use in humans. For example, this would mean that taking the antibiotic would kill only those causing an infection, and not all the healthy bacteria that live in the gut.


Referencia: A Deep Learning Approach to Antibiotic Discovery. Jonathan M.Stokes KevinYang KyleSwanson WengongJin AndresCubillos-Ruiz Nina M.Donghia Craig R.MacNair ShawnFrench Lindsey A.Carfrae ZoharBloom Ackerman Victoria M.Tran AnushChiappino-Pepe Ahmed H.Badran Ian W.Andrews Emma J.Chory George M.Church Eric D.Brown Tommi S.Jaakkola …James J.Collins. CELL 2020.

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