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The toxic wasp venom that could help protect humans against superbugs

  • Polybia paulista is an aggressive social wasp endemic in south-east Brazil 
  • MIT researchers studied the antimicrobial properties of a toxin
  • created variants that are potent against bacteria but nontoxic to human cells

Mark Prigg For Dailymail.com

Toxic wasp venom could lead to radical news drugs that kill off superbugs resistant to antibiotics.

Researchers at MIT studying the antimicrobial properties of a toxin normally found in a South American wasp, created variants that are potent against bacteria but nontoxic to human cells. 

In a study in mice, the researchers found that their strongest peptide could completely eliminate Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a strain of bacteria that causes respiratory and other infections and is resistant to most antibiotics. 

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Researchers at MIT studying the antimicrobial properties of a toxin normally found in a South American wasp, created variants that are potent against bacteria but nontoxic to human cells. Polybia paulista is an aggressive social wasp endemic in south-east Brazil.

Researchers at MIT studying the antimicrobial properties of a toxin normally found in a South American wasp, created variants that are potent against bacteria but nontoxic to human cells. Polybia paulista is an aggressive social wasp endemic in south-east Brazil.

Researchers at MIT studying the antimicrobial properties of a toxin normally found in a South American wasp, created variants that are potent against bacteria but nontoxic to human cells. Polybia paulista is an aggressive social wasp endemic in south-east Brazil.

THE ‘AGGRESSIVE’ WASP THAT COULD BEAT SUPERBUGS  

‘We’ve repurposed a toxic molecule into one that is a viable molecule to treat infections,’ says Cesar de la Fuente-Nunez, an MIT postdoc who led the paper in the journal Nature Communications Biology. 

‘By systematically analyzing the structure and function of these peptides, we’ve been able to tune their properties and activity.’

The venom of insects such as wasps and bees is full of compounds that can kill bacteria.

Unfortunately, many of these compounds are also toxic for humans, making it impossible to use them as antibiotic drugs. 

As part of their immune defenses, many organisms, including humans, produce peptides that can kill bacteria. 

To help fight the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, many scientists have been trying to adapt these peptides as potential new drugs. 

The peptide that de la Fuente-Nunez and his colleagues focused on in this study was isolated from a wasp known as Polybia paulista.

The team selected the most promising compounds to test in mice infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common source of respiratory and urinary tract infections, and found that several of the peptides could reduce the infection. 

One of them, given at a high dose, could eliminate it completely. 

 ‘After four days, that compound can completely clear the infection, and that was quite surprising and exciting because we don’t typically see that with other experimental antimicrobials or other antibiotics that we’ve tested in the past with this particular mouse model,’ de la Fuente-Nunez says.

 

 

 

De la Fuente-Nunez is one of the senior authors of the paper, which appears in the Dec. 7 issue of . Timothy Lu, an MIT associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and of biological engineering, and Vani Oliveira, an associate professor at the Federal University of ABC in Brazil, are also senior authors. The paper’s lead author is Marcelo Der Torossian Torres, a former visiting student at MIT.   

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