Wasp VENOM could combat the antibiotic resistance crisis

Could wasp VENOM combat antibiotic resistance? Scientists discover it contains a toxin that can completely eradicate a deadly bacteria

  • When adapted in the lab, it wiped out Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria in mice
  • This can cause pneumonia and is very dangerous in immunosuppressed people  
  • World Health Organization warned the world is heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era 
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The fear of being stung by a wasp is a phobia for many.

But scientists have discovered the stripey pests may help combat the antibiotic resistance crisis – and not just a pose a threat to your picnic. 

Researchers adapted the properties of wasp venom in the lab and tested its effect on the deadly, antibiotic-resistant bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Wasp venom is known to wipe out dangerous bacteria but can also be extremely painful (stock)

The team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found the venom completely wiped out the bacteria within four days – and caused no pain. 

The study comes amid growing fears of antibiotic resistance, driven by the unnecessary doling out of the drugs, which has turned once harmless bacteria into superbugs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned if nothing is done the world is heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.      

Pneumonia, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea, and salmonellosis are among the growing number of infections that are becoming harder to treat. 

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The research was led by the microbiologist and immunologist Dr Cesar de la Fuente-Nunez and published in the journal Communications Biology. 

‘We’ve repurposed a toxic molecule into one that is a viable molecule to treat infections,’ he said. 

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

Peptides are the building blocks of proteins, with all creatures on the planet producing ones that kill microbes by breaking down their cell structure. 


Antibiotics have been doled out unnecessarily by GPs and hospital staff for decades, fueling once harmless bacteria to become superbugs. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned if nothing is done the world is heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.

It claimed common infections, such as chlamydia, will become killers without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.

Bacteria can become drug resistant when people take incorrect doses of antibiotics or if they are given out unnecessarily. 

Chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as severe as terrorism.

Figures estimate that superbugs will kill 10 million people each year by 2050, with patients succumbing to once harmless bugs.

Around 700,000 people already die yearly due to drug-resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria across the world. 

Concerns have repeatedly been raised that medicine will be taken back to the ‘dark ages’ if antibiotics are rendered ineffective in the coming years.

In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, there have only been one or two new antibiotics developed in the last 30 years.

In September, the WHO warned antibiotics are ‘running out’ as a report found a ‘serious lack’ of new drugs in the development pipeline.

Without antibiotics, C-sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements will become incredibly ‘risky’, it was said at the time.

The researchers identified one particular peptide in the venom of a South American wasp species, called Polybia paulista, which was previously investigated as a cancer treatment.

This peptide is only made up of 12 amino acids – the building blocks of peptides – which makes it easy to manipulate.

‘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,’ Dr de la Fuente said. 

The researchers developed a few dozen variations of the peptide, which they tested against seven species of bacteria and two of fungi to see how well they broke the pathogens down.

This enabled the scientists to discover the specific structures and properties of the peptide that were most effective against the microbes, which could then be refined. 

The refined peptides were then tested for toxicity on lab-grown human kidney cells before they were given to mice infected with P. aeruginosa. 

This bacteria can cause pneumonia and urinary tract infections in people with weak immune systems, such as those with cystic fibrosis. 

Several of the peptides reduced the level of infection but one completely eradicated it. 

‘After four days, that compound can completely clear the infection, and that was quite surprising and exciting, Dr de la Fuente said.

‘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.’

Antibiotics start working immediately after being taken, but most people do not feel better for two-to-three days.

The drugs usually need to be taken for one or two weeks, however, this varies depending on the type of treatment and infection.  

The researchers are investigating if the same level of effectiveness can be achieved with a lower, and therefore likely safer, amount of venom.

A number of drugs are already in development to assess the potential of antimicrobial peptides in treating resistant infections, however, many medications fail to pass clinical trials.

However, even if wasp venom ends up being a dead end, the researchers believe their findings can be applied to other antimicrobial proteins to search for a wider range of solutions.  


An Englishman who caught the ‘world’s worst’ case of super-gonorrhoea was cured in April 2018 with a last-ditch antibiotic.

In the first recorded case worldwide, the unidentified man caught a version of the sexually transmitted infection (STI) that was resistant to two crucial drugs.

Health officials revealed he caught it from a one-night stand with a woman during his travels to south east Asia earlier this year – despite having a girlfriend in the UK.

Public Health England (PHE) issued a warning over the the STI, which is resistant to ceftriaxone and azithromycin – the two drugs recommended for gonorrhoea.

In a statement, the Government agency revealed the man – whose location has also been withheld – was cured with the antibiotics ertapenem.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STIs at PHE, said: ‘We are pleased to report the case of multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea has been successfully treated. 

‘Investigations have also revealed there has been no further spread of this infection within the UK.’

Dr Hughes did warn that ‘we expect to see further cases of multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea in the future’. 

World Health Organization (WHO) experts raised fears two years ago the STI, once known as the ‘clap’, could become immune to antibiotics in a ‘matter of years’.

The WHO recommends patients are given ceftriaxone and azithromycin to combat gonorrhoea, the third most common STI in Britain.  

Officials said: ‘This is the first global report of high-level azithromycin resistant N. gonorrhoeae which is also resistant to ceftriaxone.’

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