Wasp venom holds powerful antibiotic promise


Antibiotic-resistant bacteria could get stung by a new development—antibiotics developed with wasp venom.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine tinkered with a highly toxic protein in wasp venom to help it target bacteria while reducing its damage to human cells.

“Novel antibiotics are urgently needed to combat multidrug-resistant pathogens. We think that venom-derived molecules … are going to be a valuable source of new antibiotics,” study senior author César de la Fuente, an assistant professor at Penn, said in a news release.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tells how de la Fuente and his team worked with a peptide called mastoparan-L, an essential part of the venom of Korean yellow-jacket wasps. Their stings usually aren’t dangerous for humans. But the venom can destroy red blood cells and produce anaphylaxis in those who are allergic or otherwise susceptible.

But the peptide poses another danger: to bacteria.

The researchers replaced the part of the peptide believed to be more toxic to humans with the one associated with antibacterial action, creating a molecule called mastoparan-MO, or mast-MO.

Mice infected with sepsis-inducing strains of bacteria were treated with mast-MO, with 80% surviving. “Venoms represent previously untapped sources of novel drugs,” the researchers wrote.

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