Scientists say they have done laboratory resurrections of several 2 to 3 billion-year-old proteins, ancient ancestors of the enzymes that enable today's antibiotic-resistant bacteria to shrug off huge doses of penicillins, cephalosporins and other modern drugs.
Antibiotic resistance existed long before Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic in 1928. Genes that contain instructions for making the proteins responsible for antibiotic resistance have been found in 30,000-year-old permafrost sediment and other ancient sites. The new study research focused on beta-lactamases, enzymes responsible for resistance to the family of antibiotics that includes penicillin, which scientists believe originated billions of years ago.
They used laboratory and statistical techniques to reconstruct the sequences of beta-lactamase proteins dating to Precambrian times, 2-3 billion years ago. The team also synthesized the inferred ancestral enzymes and conducted studies on their stability, structure and function.
"The availability of laboratory resurrections of Precambrian beta-lactamases opens up new possibilities in the study of the emergence of antibiotic resistance," the report states. "For instance, it should now be possible to perform laboratory replays of the molecular tape of lactamase evolution and use such replays to probe the molecular determinants of the efficiency of lactamases to adapt to different types of antibiotics."
The authors also note that the extreme stability and catalytic features displayed by the 2-3-billion-year-old lactamases suggest that resurrected Precambrian proteins have utility for the biotechnology industry.
Published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.