Antibiotic Development Finds New Hope in Wasp Sting

Antibiotic development had reached a plateau lately. Most of the antibiotics found and extracted from nature can prove toxic to humans. A research conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has finally managed to eliminate part of wasp venom that was toxic to humans.

As the part that is toxic to bacteria was retained, this can prove to be the much-needed breakthrough in antibiotic development.

A wasp sting can be incredibly painful. While a lot of remedies are available for the resulting swelling and pain, the research has established that the venom is particularly effective against Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This bacterium complicates any medical condition. From ear infections to skin rashes it can cause mild to severe illness and may prove to be fatal for patients suffering from a serious disease.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa particularly interested the researchers because of its complex cellular structure. The complex structure makes the pathogen resistant to most antibiotics. Over millions of years, it was evolved with resistant genes that shield it.

Primarily, the research was started on the venom of the South American Polybia Paulista wasp. It is notable that the venom of the same wasp is under investigation for use in chemotherapy.

Cesar de la Fuente-Nunez, a renowned microbiologist and an immunologist was part of the team that conducted the research. He said, “We’ve repurposed a toxic molecule into one that is a viable molecule to treat infections. By systematically analyzing the structure and function of these peptides, we’ve been able to tune their properties and activity.”

The venom of the Polybia Paulista contains some amino acid complexes, or more simply, peptides which can cause changes in the body cells of the victim. A peptide by the name of Polybia-CP contained within the venom has only 12 chains of amino acids. This makes it an easy peptide to genetically modify and utilize for medicinal purposes.

Mr. Fuente- Nunez added, “It’s a small enough peptide that you can try to mutate as many amino acid residues as possible to try to figure out how each building block is contributing to antimicrobial activity and toxicity,”

Polybia-CP, without any modifications, can cause severe inflammation. The peptide can even kill human body cells. Researchers believe that these lethal characteristics are made possible due to its helical structure. With some changes in the amino acid chains, the team has come up with a variant of Polybia-CP that doesn’t harm human cells but can eliminate bacteria.

The research concluded that high doses of the modified Polybia-CP can eliminate Pseudomonas aeruginosa in four days. De la Fuente-Nunez said, “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,”

This can prove to be a breakthrough as current lineup of antibiotics have started to fail. The bacteria have become resistant against them.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa can prove to be fatal for the patients who have a weakened immune system. The product of the research is still in its infancy. The team is working on it to enhance its efficiency while decreasing the dosage.

The tests were conducted on a lab-grown human kidney cell. Its outcome and after effects will have to be analyzed. Extensive testing may be required before the modified Polybia-CP can be made available to the commercial market as an antibiotic. Should the team succeed, this modification of the peptide can be performed on other peptides to obtain a wider range of solutions for all the microbial problems.

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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