Honeybee Compound Shows Promise in Antibiotic Development

A compound from honeybees attacks harmful bacteria in a new way.

There have been no novel antibiotics developed for several decades and common bacteria are becoming highly-resistant to current therapies. The CDC has called antibiotic resistance a significant public health concern. If new treatments are not discovered, human health may be at risk.

Each year, more than 2 million Americans develop antibiotic-resistant infections, resulting in more than 23,000 deaths. Many more Americans die from complications related to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. While researchers have been tirelessly searching for a way to circumvent resistance, they have been unsuccessful thus far.

An antimicrobial produced by honeybees—Api137—may provide a promising foundation for new antibiotics due to its unconventional mechanism of action, according to a study published by Nature Structural & Molecular Biology.

In the study, the authors discovered how Api137, a derivative of the antibiotic apidaecin, could be used to prevent thousands of adverse health events related to drug-resistant superbugs.

Organisms naturally defend themselves against bacteria by creating antibacterial peptides, which can be used as antibiotics if they are understood, according to the study. Api137 is naturally produced by bees, wasps, or hornets to protect against pathogens. The authors report that Api137 can block the creation of proteins in harmful bacteria, providing an alternative to traditional mechanisms.

Many current antibiotics work by targeting the ribosome, which is tasked with making all of the proteins within the cell. This action effectively kills bacteria by preventing replication.

The authors report that protein production can also be impeded by interfering with the process that translates DNA into protein, according to the study. Api137 is the first known compound that inhibits this process, showing its promise as a treatment to combat bacteria resistant to traditional methods.

"This project was a result of an excellent collaboration of our team," said researcher Dr Nora Vázquez-Laslop. "We can now harness the knowledge of how Api137 works in order to make new drugs that would kill bad bacteria using a similar mechanism of action."