Does wasp venom contain the solution to combat antibiotic-resistant germs?

Wasps are not the most popular visitors for outdoor activities. Many people are afraid of the painful stings or suffer from an insect sting allergy. But these uninvited guests could soon save millions of lives. An American research team has developed a bactericidal active substance from the wasp venom of a South American wasp species, which is non-toxic for humans and may be suitable as a new antibiotic.

The poison of wasps and bees kills bacteria, but is also toxic to humans. 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 substance even killed antibiotic-resistant germs. The study results were recently published in the renowned journal “Nature Communications Biology”.

From poison to cure

“We have transformed a toxic molecule into a molecule that is effective in the treatment of infectious diseases,” said Dr. Cesar de la Fuente-Nunez, author of the study, in his press release on the results. The research team carried out a systematic analysis of the structure and function of the peptides found in the wasp venom and modified their properties so that they are no longer toxic to humans.

Oriented towards the natural immune defence

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. In research, peptides have long been regarded as the basis for new drugs. The MIT research group has now been able to isolate a peptide from the wasp species Polybia paulista that is small enough to be used as an active substance against bacteria.

Wasp poison antibiotic destroys resistant bacterial strains

The MIT researchers test the active substance on mice. The rodents were infected with the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This bacterial strain can cause severe 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 bacterial strains in mice.

Non-toxic to human cells

To simulate the effect on humans, researchers brought the most effective peptide into contact with infected human cells cultured in the laboratory. “After four days, the peptide was able to completely eliminate the infection,” said de la Fuente-Nunez. He has not yet 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 originate from nature,” the expert sums up. Many rules can be derived from this study that are also important for further peptide research.

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