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Does wasp venom contain the solution to fight antibiotic-resistant germs?
Wasps aren't exactly the most popular visitors to outdoor activities. Many people are afraid of the painful stings or suffer from an insect bite allergy. But these very unwanted guests could soon save millions of lives. An American research team has developed a wasp venom from a South American wasp species into a bactericidal agent that is non-toxic to humans and may be suitable as a new antibiotic.
The venom from wasps and bees kills bacteria, but is also poisonous to humans. The researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have succeeded in modifying the poison so that it is no longer toxic to humans. However, the antimicrobial properties are retained. Tests showed that the active ingredient even killed antibiotic-resistant germs. The study results were recently published in the renowned journal "Nature Communications Biology".
From poison to remedy
"We have transformed a toxic molecule into a molecule that is effective for treating infectious diseases," says study author Dr. Cesar de la Fuente-Nunez in the press release on the study results. The research team conducted a systematic analysis of the structure and function of the peptides found in the wasp venom and changed the properties so that they are no longer toxic to humans.
Oriented towards the natural immune defense
Peptides are compounds that contain amino acids. Many organisms, including humans, use them as part of the immune system to kill microbes in the body by destroying bacterial cell membranes. Research has long viewed peptides as the basis for new drugs. The MIT research group has now isolated a peptide from the wasp species Polybia paulista that is small enough to be used as an active ingredient against bacteria.
Wasp venom antibiotic destroys resistant bacterial strains
The MIT researchers test the active ingredient on mice. The rodents were infected with the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This bacterial strain can cause serious respiratory infections and other infectious diseases and is resistant to most antibiotics. As the study shows, the modified wasp peptide was able to completely eliminate the bacterial strains in the mice.
Non-toxic to human cells
In order to simulate the effects on humans, the researchers brought the most effective peptide into contact with infected human cells that were grown in the laboratory. "After four days, the peptide was able to completely eliminate the infection," said de la Fuente-Nunez. He has never seen such a result in any other experimental antibiotic.
Are peptides the antibiotics of the future?
"Some of the principles we have learned here can also be applied to other similar peptides that come from nature," summarizes the expert. A lot of rules can be derived from this study, which are also important for further peptide research. (vb)