The parents of foodborne illness victims often tell us they felt their hearts skip a beat when doctors first told them that their child’s pathogen was resisting antibiotic treatment. We’ve learned that the earlier they know this, the better, and often there are alternatives that do work. But victims of foodborne illnesses are among the 23,000 deaths the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now blame on antibiotic resistance. The emergence of so-called superbugs sounds like science fiction, but antibiotic resistance has not only begun to really undercut modern medicine, but also raise concerns that spill over into animal agriculture. Antibiotics were the products of mainly American ingenuity in the past century. Last week, news popped up in the journal Nature that Northeastern University microbiologist Kim Lewis – showing some considerable American ingenuity in this century – has discovered a new class of antibiotics that will see clinical trials in just a couple of years. A mentor once told me that the key to success in life was putting oneself in position to take credit for the inevitable. In 2014, President Obama appointed a federal task force for combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria that is due to submit an action plan for dealing with the issue next month. But — note to the federal task force — Northeastern’s Lewis has cultivated a microbe from soil in Maine to literally take down antibiotic superbugs. As explained by Los Angeles Times science writer Geoffrey Mohan, the microbe makes a compound that “kills tuberculosis, MRSA, and other deadly pathogens that are immune to even the most powerful drugs.” It was a burst of antibiotic science around World War II that created most of the products used to fight infections today. Antibiotic resistance began as quickly as the first antibiotics were invented, but took a long time to become significant. There were enough cheap antibiotics available for a couple generations to make a new development round unnecessary for a long spell. But that has changed, and the World Health Organization warned of a coming crisis unless new antibiotics were developed to combat the resistance. While it’s been clear that this new development round is the solution, we’ve been subjected to a dreary debate about whether antibiotics should be used at all in animal agriculture. It’s been the main sideshow for about 30 years. With American science back in the antibiotic-development business, we are certain to see more substantive reports, with hope for victims of foodborne illnesses. The Northeastern team found a new species of bacteria they’ve named Eleftheria. Lewis has referred to it as rediscovering penicillin and streptomycin. The team’s work has produced 10,000 strains of bacteria, which Northeastern’s lab is sorting and studying as they grow and form colonies. Team members ended up extracting the antibacterial molecule known as E. terrace, a strep killer. Having American scientists back in their labs coming up with “weapons against human pathogens” is entirely good news. It was not exactly overlooked this past week, but I dare say it did not get the kind of attention it deserved. Let’s hope Lewis and the others are well-compensated. They have financial interest from NovoBiotic Pharmaceuticals, which owns the patent for the new molecule. The last generation of scientists to invent antibiotics also were awarded several Nobel Prizes. Nobel Prizes, including all those for the hard sciences, are a good way to track that American ingenuity I was talking about. No other nation, combination of nations or continent comes close to America’s 353 Nobel laureates. This likely will prove to be another example of American science responding to a world need. One thing the federal government has contributed is a $20-million prize for a rapid diagnostic test to determine if antibiotic resistance is at play. That’s so doctors know right away what will work and what won’t work. In the meantime, all look to American science to solve this medical problem that is costing us about $20 billion a year. And it’s not only Northeastern University bringing resources to bear. Pharmaceutical companies are promising to pit antibodies — as opposed to antibiotics — against dangerous bacteria. This way of fighting bacterial resistance is not entirely new. Emil von Behring, a German physiologist, received the first Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine awarded in 1901 for his discovery of a diphtheria antitoxin. The von Behring antitoxin became less significant as time went on because of the widespread use of antibiotics, but antibodies created in the lab are coming back, including those being tested now by pharmaceutical giant Merck to combat the hospital-plaguing Clostridium difficile. Whether the future includes new microbes or antibodies makes no difference to worried parents in the local children’s hospital. What’s important to them is that science quickly comes up with new tools for doctors to use in killing drug-resistant superbugs. And it looks like we are are getting a burst of scientific achievement just in time. Solutions to antibiotic resistance are coming soon, and fewer parents will have their hearts skip a beat when they learn about their child’s treatment.