Scientists turn wasp venom into potentially ground-breaking antibiotic

After years of scrambling to discover new antibiotic compounds that can go on living even when hit with the most potent drugs a team from MIT has managed to tweak one of these molecules to be safe for people and toxic to bacteria.

The research focused on Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a persistently nasty bacterium that exists basically everywhere. It’s what’s known as an opportunistic pathogen because it tends to cause disease when another condition is present.

For example, it causes potentially fatal pneumonia in cystic fibrosis sufferers and skin infections in those recovering from burns. Pseudomonas aeruginosa is of particular concern because it’s resistant to most common antibiotics.

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The bacterium has picked up resistant genes, and its cellular structure helps shield it from many antibiotic molecules.

That brings us to Polybia paulista, a South American Wasp with a nasty sting. Its venom contains a cocktail of peptides (amino acid complexes) that can affect cells inside the victim.

In fact, one Polybia paulista peptide is already under investigation as a chemotherapy agent. This study explored uses for a peptide called polybia-CP, which can cause cell death and inflammation in humans, but it’s only 12 amino acids long. That makes it relatively easy to characterize and modify.

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