AI identifies a new antibiotic effective against superbugs

Hyperaxion Feb 22, 2020

Using the technology, scientists at MIT have found that halicin is capable of eliminating multi-resistant organisms, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis.

Thanks to artificial intelligence (AI), scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States have created a powerful antibiotic that kills some of the most drug-resistant bacteria. The discovery was published in the scientific journal Cell.

How the process works

To find new antibiotics, researchers first trained a machine-learning algorithm to identify types of molecules that kill bacteria. They provided the program with information about the atomic and molecular characteristics of nearly 2,500 drugs and natural compounds, as well as data on how much each substance blocks the growth of the bacterium Escherichia coli.

Results in just a few hours

Once the algorithm learned which molecular characteristics produced good antibiotics, the scientists put it to work in a library of more than 6,000 compounds being investigated as potential drugs.

The technology focused on finding effective compounds, but different from existing antibiotics – which would guarantee the effect against resistant bacteria. It took only a few hours for the algorithm to evaluate the compounds and come up with some promising antibiotics.

AI identifies a new antibiotic effective against superbugs
MIT creates antibiotic against resistant bacteria with artificial intelligence. Halicin (top) prevented the development of antibiotic resistance in E. coli, while ciprofloxacin (bottom), which is another drug, did not. (Photo: MIT / Cell).

One of the most powerful antibiotics ever discovered

“We wanted to develop a platform that would allow us to harness the power of artificial intelligence to usher in a new era of antibiotic discovery,” said James Collins, one of the study’s authors, in a statement. “Our approach revealed an incredible molecule, which is arguably one of the most powerful antibiotics ever discovered.”


The molecule in question was named halicin, in honor of HAL, the AI from the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Stanley Kubrick. According to the team, the molecule, originally developed to treat diabetes, has been shown to treat numerous infections.

The new antibiotic is already being tested

Tests on bacterial cultures have shown that halicin can kill Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis, and strains of Enterobacteriaceae that are resistant to carbapenems, a group of antibiotics considered the last resort to treat infections caused by this microorganism.

In addition, tests on rats have proven the substance’s effectiveness against two other species of multi-resistant organisms, Clostridium difficile and Acinetobacter baumannii.


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