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PITTSBURGH–A team of American and Russian computer scientists has developed an algorithm that can rapidly search massive databases to discover novel variants of known antibiotics — a potential boon in fighting antibiotic resistance.

In just a few hours, the algorithm, called VarQuest, identified 10 times more variants of peptidic natural products (PNPs) than all previous PNP discovery efforts combined, the researchers report in the latest issue of the journal Nature Microbiology. Previously, such a search might have taken hundreds of years of computation, said Hosein Mohimani, assistant professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Computational Biology Department.

“Our results show that the antibiotics produced by microbes are much more diverse than had been assumed,” Mohimani said. VarQuest found more than a thousand variants of known antibiotics, he noted, providing a big picture perspective that microbiologists couldn’t obtain while studying one antibiotic at a time.

Mohimani and Pavel A. Pevzner, professor of computer science at the University of California, San Diego, designed and directed the effort, which included colleagues at St. Petersburg State University in Russia.

PNPs have an unparalleled track record in pharmacology. Many antimicrobial and anticancer agents are PNPs, including the so-called “antibiotics of last resort,” vancomycin and daptomycin. As

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