The role that pharmaceutical antibiotics play within the producing organism has remained a largely unexplored field as the research focus has mainly revolved around high production for therapeutic use. Evidence exists to suggest that, at low levels, these “antibiotics” may actually act as signaling or regulatory molecules within or between cells. Julian Davies, a veteran in the field of small molecule natural products research, spent this past Tuesday at the Potter Street Lab to discuss the importance of shifting this focus to gain a better understanding of the normal functions that these molecules have within microbial communities. Davies reminds us of the Paracelsus quote that the “dose makes the poison”. While at therapeutic levels, such compounds may in fact poison the offending microorganism, at the sub-inhibitory levels that may be produced while the organism grows in its natural environment, such small molecules may behave in a different fashion – regulation of transcription, translation, replication, etc. Great efforts have been made in recent years to better characterize genomes, transcriptomes and proteomes. The potential to build libraries of small molecule natural products is perhaps the next -ome to characterize and thus the concept of the Parvome was introduced to the microbiology world in 2008 by Davies. Will understanding the natural roles of this vast group (-ome) of small (parv-) molecules from microorganisms help us to better direct our search for antimicrobials in a world of increasing antibiotic resistance? Will it help us build artificial microbial communities to use in bioremediation, waste water treatment, etc.? Will it help us to understand how these microorganisms grow and interact to cycle various nutrients in the environment? Davies visit has opened up some exiting pathways that need exploring. We are very grateful that we were able to spend this day interacting with Julian Davies. To read more about Davies research extending back to the 1950s, visit his publication page linked from the University of British Columbia where Davies is a Professor Emeritus.
Thumbnail image credit: The University of British Columbia, https://lsi.ubc.ca/2022/02/15/julian-davies/