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Monday, March 1, 2010
‘beewolves’ used and found antibiotics first, study shows
A humble wasp learned how to use sophisticated antibiotics millions of years before the invention of penicillin, research has shown.Digger wasps of the family Philanthus, also known as “beewolves”, harness beneficial bacteria to manufacture a cocktail of drugs that protect its larvae from infection.
Scientists who made the discovery believe it could assist the development of new agents to combat human “superbugs”.The era of antibiotics began in 1928 when Alexander Fleming spotted how penicillin produced by green mould killed bacteria.
But long before, Philanthus wasps were coating their cocoons with antibiotics to fight off harmful microbes.
The insects not only evolved a method of manufacturing antibiotics, they used them in a highly effective way, said the scientists writing in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.
Just as human experts have learned to do, The German researchers found that beewolves teamed up with a type of bacteria called Streptomyces in a symbiotic relationship that benefited both species.
In exchange for having a home, the bugs produced a cocktail of nine different antibiotics effective against a broad range of harmful bacteria and fungi.