An illustration of a "Super Bug" is shown. The bug is green with a red cape.The latest weapon in the fight against drug-resistant bacteria did not rise from a petri dish in a lab but from the great outdoors.

A team of researchers used dirt to cultivate an antibiotic that shows great promise in knocking out superbugs and keeping them down for the count.

For years, scientists have waged a losing battle to develop drugs to defeat harmful bacteria. But every year drug-resistant bacterial infections kill more than 23,000 people in the U.S. and sicken another 2 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The development of antibiotics using bacteria traditionally cultured in laboratories has slowed to a crawl. While new antibiotic development suffered, bacteria didn’t. They continued to evolve and some have learned to resist standard treatments. That’s why names such as MRSA, C. Difficile and drug-resistant tuberculosis have become so well known.

For years, many new antibiotics did come from soil bacteria, but that approach hit a dead end in the 1960s. That’s because the majority of bacteria – about 99 percent – do not grow in a laboratory dish.

A new method for growing soil bacteria in its native dirt in the lab has produced a new drug called Teixobactin that shows great promise. Teixobactin not only destroys bacteria by breaking down their cell walls, superbugs show no resistance to it.

Researchers hope to have a form of Teixobactin in human clinical trials within two years. Positive results would have the drug available for use by the end of the decade.

David Dobbie, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Spectrum Health, holds mixed views regarding this breakthrough yet remains hopeful.

“As a physician on the front lines fighting drug-resistant infections, my focus tends to be along the lines of what is available now,” he said. “However, looking at this as a scientist, it’s exciting.”

Dr. Dobbie believes that using new technology to open new doors would be the best hope for attacking drug-resistant superbugs.

“Researchers are creating a new class of drugs with a new point of attack – one that I hope will prove much harder for these bugs to develop defenses against,” he said.