theatlantic | If his mushrooms could grow tailor-made weapons against any other types of fungi, would it be possible for them to do the same against any type of bacteria, too?
The rise of drug-resistant bacteria is sobering. Just last week, colistin-resistant E. coli––a “superbug” resistant to the antibiotic that’s considered the last resort for combatting particularly dangerous types of infections––landed in the U.S. Soon, public health officials anticipate, infections will be harder to stop; 10 million people could die of drug-resistant superbugs
It may be a long shot, but it’s conceivable that Cotter's process offers a new kind of hope. While scientists have been working on the problem of antibiotic resistance for many years—some are looking to harness the human immune system to better fight it; others are working on simply detecting the superbugs faster—his vision is to beat superbugs with medicine that actually adapts to destroy them. It’s not pharmaceuticals he has in mind; he's not planning to mass produce many different types of secondary metabolites. Rather, he believes it’s his unique style of co-culturing itself––the process of culturing two different microbes together to produce a defense entirely specific to the attacker––that may be able to create custom antibiotics that, at least in theory, could be inherently less susceptible to resistance.
His goal, in other words, is to grow mushrooms that are themselves medicine, because they could create whatever metabolites a sick person needs.
"The best situation I could describe is something everyone has gone through, like a strep throat culture,” Cotter says, imagining a scenario in which an infected patient walks into the doctor’s office, gets a throat swab, and then has the swab dropped into a specially designed module containing a fungus. That fungus would then sweat metabolites into a reservoir that would be naturally calibrated to combat the patient’s illness.
Cotter doesn’t know how the metabolites would be administered yet. A lollipop or throat spray for strep? Delivered topically for staph? His testing is still thoroughly ongoing. Should he receive the NIH grant he's applying for––a grant backed by a $1.2 billion White House Initiative to stop resistant diseases––answers could arrive rapidly. Analytical labs would go up, animal testing would begin, streptococcus lollipopus before we know it.