Bee stings may provide a solution to overcome the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in bacteria according to new research presented Monday by Belfast scientists at the Society for General Microbiology’s 155th Meeting at Trinity College Dublin.
A small protein found in bee venom called melittin can break open the protective skin which surrounds all cells, including cells in our own bodies, and the membranes which enclose bacteria.
“This new approach could give us a whole new type of antibiotic, very different in action from conventional antibiotics, against which bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant,” says Alison Qua, a researcher at Queen’s University. “We are searching for new derivatives of melittin, which can still attack bacteria, but without bursting and killing our own cells.”
The scientists have found some versions of melittin with increased activity against the membranes of bacterial cells, and others which are slightly less damaging to human blood cells. If the researchers can combine these two traits in a single version, they hope to produce a more potent antibacterial product which is better tolerated by mammals, including people.
Alison Qua is also looking at the molecular structure of melittin using magnetic resonance technologies to find out how minute changes in the structure of the melittin molecules change the way they affect living organisms. The molecular evidence gathered from this investigation may suggest versions of similar proteins which could also work as effective antibiotics.