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The Biomedical Engineering blog is the place for conversation and discussion about topics related to engineering principles of the medical field. Here, you'll find everything from discussions about emerging medical technologies to advances in medical research. The blog's owner, Chelsey H, is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

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Dirt to the Rescue

Posted January 27, 2015 12:00 AM by Chelsey H

I'm a firm believer in the old adage "God made dirt, dirt don't hurt," and it turns out that dirt might soon be saving lives.

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A novel microfluidic device is used to grow soil bacteria by researchers in Boston and Bonn, Germany. The researchers say they have identified a new type of antibiotic that kills the bacteria that cause pneumonia, staph, and blood infections. Backyard dirt might have yielded the most powerful antibiotic discovered in decades.

This is a timely discovery. Last year the World Health Organization predicted that a "discovery void" for new antibiotics could lead to an era in which minor injuries and common infections become deadly again.

The antibiotic, named teixobactin, has yet to be tested in people, but it cured mice of pneumonia, staph, and blood infections. It was discovered using a new technology for soil prospecting that was developed by a biologist at Northeastern University in Boston, which used a two-inch-long microfluidic chip that acts as a portable diffusion chamber.

The research team diluted dirt made mud to capture a single soil microbe in each of 306 tiny holes on the chip's surface. The bacteria was put in a tub of dirt and therefore "tricked" into growing colonies robust enough to be transferred to a petri dish. From there they were tested to see if they produced antibiotics.

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#1

Re: Dirt to the Rescue

01/27/2015 9:49 AM

Have I finally been vindicated? I spent most of my youth trying, unsuccessfully, to convince my mother that this is true.

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#2

Re: Dirt to the Rescue

01/28/2015 9:36 AM

Think back on how many times one made mud pies and actually ate some. For us older people who did this or even unintentionally got a mouthful of dirt or worked the soil, there seems to be a lot fewer "environmental allergies" than the newer generations that don't even get outside to play.

I believe they are on to something here.

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Re: Dirt to the Rescue

01/28/2015 11:06 AM

I too believe that those who were more likely to get out and get a little dirty, eat a little dirt, wrestle with a pig, get licked by a horse and eat eggs without washing the egg shells first always seem to have a more robust immune system. Oh, yes, grow up with a dog and a cat around and whatever other animals that seem to make their way into the household, rats, mice, guinea pigs, gerbils, hamsters, snakes, frogs, lizards, etc.

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Re: Dirt to the Rescue

01/28/2015 11:13 AM

Grew up totally healthy on a farm, with farm-raised stock, fresh, home-canned, or frozen vegetables year-round, plenty of white cream gravy and steak and biscuits, and other than being slightly majorly obese, I had no particular allergies. We never let animals "live" in the house other than humans. Butch the chow dog could come inside if it was a major thunderstorm. He had survived rattlesnake bite by chewing off the hock of his left rear leg.

Now that I live in a city of nearly 300,000 (this places keeps growing for reasons that are completely inconsistent with the available water resource), my wife and I have several dogs, various in-house, and garage dwelling cats, cats at large, and four "tame" birds, one of which knows his name and can speak it. I have to take an allergy pill every morning.

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Re: Dirt to the Rescue

01/28/2015 10:52 PM

Might be age. I've heard plenty of people develop sensitivities to things that never bothered them before once they advanced to the age of 40-something and beyond.

The other thing could be the location. Did you grow up in the same part of Texas? My daughter is horribly sensitive to some tree or bush down there in the San Antonio area when she was doing training at Ft. Sam Houston. She's fine as long as she isn't in the southern region of Texas.

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Re: Dirt to the Rescue

01/29/2015 12:28 PM

In the San Antonio area, the allergies are quite possibly more related to cedar pollen, and usually the local news channels down there report the pollen counts daily or more frequently.

In my area, it is on the High Plains (known as the South Plains here), and here this is cotton country, primarily with some corn, sorghum, and other crops thrown in, and a large feed yard for cattle about 2 miles directly east of the plant where I am currently stationed. I think the dust in the air here is carrying pesticide/herbicide residues that aggravation some people's allergic responses, plus my house is loaded with animal hair, bird dander, cat dander, cat hair, etc. We have some minor resemblence to Noah's Ark here. We even have a pet O'Possum in the garage. You have not lived until you "get to" clean up after that guy. WOW! We stopped feeding the cats in the garage in an attempt to get "possum" to go outside for eating and other businesses.

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Re: Dirt to the Rescue

01/29/2015 2:40 PM

OK, you got me beat.

But we do have a duck in the house. He gets 'scooped' and fresh pine shavings every day or it starts to smell like a hen house real fast.

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Re: Dirt to the Rescue

01/30/2015 9:13 AM

I am just glad possums can't fly!

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Re: Dirt to the Rescue

02/03/2015 12:01 PM

About the only thing you did not mention was drinking unpasteurized milk. Another of the big todo's these days. Mind you, I drank mostly cream because I was the one that had to milk the cow, by hand.

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#10

Re: Dirt to the Rescue

03/10/2015 8:18 AM

Here's a related article just published in Engineering 360: Waging War on the Super Bugs. Chelsey was out in front of this one!

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