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J Ind Microbiol Biotechnol. 2014 Feb;41(2):185-201. doi: 10.1007/s10295-013-1325-z. Epub 2013 Aug 30.

Importance of microbial natural products and the need to revitalize their discovery.

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Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti (R.I.S.E.), Drew University, Madison, NJ, 07940, USA,


Microbes are the leading producers of useful natural products. Natural products from microbes and plants make excellent drugs. Significant portions of the microbial genomes are devoted to production of these useful secondary metabolites. A single microbe can make a number of secondary metabolites, as high as 50 compounds. The most useful products include antibiotics, anticancer agents, immunosuppressants, but products for many other applications, e.g., antivirals, anthelmintics, enzyme inhibitors, nutraceuticals, polymers, surfactants, bioherbicides, and vaccines have been commercialized. Unfortunately, due to the decrease in natural product discovery efforts, drug discovery has decreased in the past 20 years. The reasons include excessive costs for clinical trials, too short a window before the products become generics, difficulty in discovery of antibiotics against resistant organisms, and short treatment times by patients for products such as antibiotics. Despite these difficulties, technology to discover new drugs has advanced, e.g., combinatorial chemistry of natural product scaffolds, discoveries in biodiversity, genome mining, and systems biology. Of great help would be government extension of the time before products become generic.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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