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Wasp venom offers hope against lung diseases

In a study over mice, the team repurposed a toxin normally found in Polybia paulista — a South American wasp — to create variants of the peptide that are potent against bacteria but non-toxic to human cells.

MIT engineers have developed new antimicrobial peptides, which can combat bacteria causing respiratory and other infections, based on a naturally occurring peptide produced by a South American wasp. 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.

However, in a study over mice, the team repurposed a toxin normally found in Polybia paulista — a South American wasp — to create variants of the peptide that are potent against bacteria but non-toxic to human cells.

They found that their strongest peptide could completely eliminate Pseudomonas aeruginosa — a strain of bacteria that causes respiratory and urinary tract infections and is resistant to most antibiotics.

“We’ve repurposed a toxic molecule into one that is a viable molecule to treat infections,” said Cesar de la Fuente-Nunez, postdoctoral researcher at MIT. “By systematically analysing the structure and function of these peptides, we’ve been able to tune their properties and activity,” Fuente-Nunez added.

MIT engineers have developed new antimicrobial peptides, which can combat bacteria causing respiratory and other infections, based on a naturally occurring peptide produced by a South American wasp. 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.

However, in a study over mice, the team repurposed a toxin normally found in Polybia paulista — a South American wasp — to create variants of the peptide that are potent against bacteria but non-toxic to human cells.

They found that their strongest peptide could completely eliminate Pseudomonas aeruginosa — a strain of bacteria that causes respiratory and urinary tract infections and is resistant to most antibiotics.

“We’ve repurposed a toxic molecule into one that is a viable molecule to treat infections,” said Cesar de la Fuente-Nunez, postdoctoral researcher at MIT. “By systematically analysing the structure and function of these peptides, we’ve been able to tune their properties and activity,” Fuente-Nunez added.

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