Exploring oil sands could be the key to developing new bug-killing drugs

Joe Harrison, PhD

Recent reports suggest antibiotic-resistant bacteria could kill 10 million people per year by 2050 if left unchecked. With a cost of $100 trillion to the world’s economy. Assistant professor Joe Harrison and his colleagues believe the microbiome of Alberta’s oil sands may hold the key to a solution.

The deep biosphere of the oil sands contains molecules that can break up bacterial biofilms. Biofilms are groups of harmful microorganisms surrounded by a layer of slime that causes infection. The research team uses chemistry to identify promising compounds that may lead to clinical traits to combat infections in humans.

The discovery of new antibiotics from this untapped resource may save the lives of those suffering from deadly bacterial infections resistant to known antibiotics. It may also hold clues to cures for other diseases. And it has the potential to stimulate the natural biological clean-up of things like oil spills on our oceans.