There’s a great article at Gizmodo about attempts to find new antibiotics by tapping into the local knowledge of healers in the rain forests of Belize:
It grows wild along the shores of the New River, among the Mayan ruins of Lamanai, next to the lilies that are home to little yellow birds that skip across the pads. Inside Belizean plants used for generations by native healers, a suite of chemicals produce a natural “anti-quorum sensing” effect that interrupts bacteria’s ability to communicate. And bacteria that can’t communicate don’t go pathogenically virulent.
At least that’s the hope. If they’re right, they’ve discovered the herbal equivalent of Neosporin.
Quorum sensing by bacteria is a hot new field of research, as disrupting bacteria’s ability to communicate may be an incredibly efficient way to prevent their adverse effects. The article also describes the sometimes eccentric head of the company (McAfee of computer anti-virus fame), and some of the political and scientific barriers to research of this type. The article is quite long, and it’s a bit sparse on the actual science, but it’s well worth the read.