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step. Using this method in soils and marine waters, we isolated

richer assemblages of micro-organisms with significantly higher

phylogenetic novelty than parallel experiments employing

conventional techniques.

Isolating novel species

Finally, we adapted the ichip approach for cultivation of human

microbiota. This application required a miniature version of the

ichip (Fig. 3). Its size (a fraction of a penny) allows its incubation

in contact with the surface of the tooth in the oral cavity or inside

the urogenital tract. Either way, the method is to provide the cells

inside the miniature ichip with conditions mimicking the natural

parameters as much as possible. This led us to isolation of

numerous novel species from the human microbiome, including

strains from formerly ‘uncultivable’ taxa.

Armed with these advances, we co-founded NovoBiotic

Pharmaceuticals LLC, Cambridge MA, USA, the mission of which is

to cultivate novel micro-organisms and explore their metabolites

on their antimicrobial properties. After a decade of microbial

cultivation from various environments, NovoBiotic accumulated a

collection of 50,000 micro-organisms of high phylogenetic novelty

and screened the collection for novel antibiotics. This led to a

discovery of 25 novel chemical entities with antimicrobial

properties. This rate of discovery is truly remarkable as it beats the

industry standards by several orders of magnitude. Among the

newly discovered antibiotics several have outstanding properties,

with one, teixobactin, showing no detectable resistance, due to its

unique mechanism of action.

The general conclusion from over a decade of application of these

methods in academia and industry is that

in situ-


cultivation leads to the isolation of species that are

environmentally relevant, are on the list of uncultivated species,

and represent a treasure trove for drug discovery. My lab is open

to collaboration in both basic microbiology of the environment

and human body, and biotechnological applications of our unique

access to the ‘missing’ microbial species.

Professor Slava Epstein

Department of Biology

Northeastern University

tel :

+1 617 640 1095

H O R I Z O N 2 0 2 0 P R O J E C T S : P O R TA L




S O C I E TA L C H A L L E N G E S : H E A L T H & W E L L B E I N G

Fig. 2 Isolation chip for high throughput microbial cultivation

in situ

Fig. 3 The miniature version of the ichip. The general design follows that

of a device currently used to cultivate soil and aquatic micro-organisms.

The central plate is dipped into cell suspension such that each through-

hole captures on average one cell; membranes separate these cells

from each other and the marine environmental micro-organisms but

allow diffusion to occur; two additional plates with matching holes

press the membranes against the central plate to seal its contents