News / Science & Technology

    Cockroaches Could Lead to New Antibiotics

    The female emerald cockroach wasp leads her prey by the antenna after stinging it to render it docile. The egg she lays on the roach will hatch, burrow inside, and feed on the roach as the wasp larva develops. (Courtesy Gudrun Herzner)
    The female emerald cockroach wasp leads her prey by the antenna after stinging it to render it docile. The egg she lays on the roach will hatch, burrow inside, and feed on the roach as the wasp larva develops. (Courtesy Gudrun Herzner)
    Most people might see cockroaches as good-for-nothing pests, but this germ-ridden insect could be an indirect source of new antibiotics for humans.

    Cockroaches host the larvae of a parasitic type of wasp, which spend their formative days eating the bacteria-laden body of the cockroach from the inside out.

    Researchers have discovered the wasp larva secretes chemicals that sanitize the decidedly unsanitary guts of the cockroach.

    These germ-killing chemicals could eventually be developed for human uses.

    Cockroach cradle

    For the developing larvae, “the cockroach is the only food source and the cradle,” says biologist Gudrun Herzner at the University of Regensburg in Germany.

    It’s a cradle that needs a good cleaning, because cockroaches spend time in some very unsanitary places, from trash heaps to public toilets, where you’ll find a cornucopia of bacteria, fungi and viruses that can make you, and the emerald wasp larva, sick.

    While the young wasp’s hygiene challenges may seem extreme, Herzner says they are basically the same problems we all face. “The larva has to protect, first, its food from degradation by microbes, and then it has to protect itself from foodborne illnesses that these microbes might cause.”

    Sanitizer dispenser

    As the wasp larva munches its way through the microbe-laden body of the cockroach, it produces generous amounts of a clear liquid.

    Herzner and her colleagues found this liquid to contain a blend of antimicrobial substances, according to their study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    "The larvae seem to disperse this secretion thoroughly inside the cockroach, and in this way sanitize their cockroach hosts,” Herzner says.

    One of the chemicals fights the germs that cause tuberculosis; another has a broad range of activity against bacteria, fungi, and viruses such as hepatitis C.

    Herzner says it is the first time researchers have found insects using this chemical against microbes.

    Insect drugs

    But it’s probably not the last insect antimicrobial discovery.

    Most antibiotics that doctors use have been discovered among microbes living in the soil, but if researchers turn to the insect world, microbiologist Julian Davies, at the University of British Columbia, says, “You can have a potentially new source of antibiotics. People have been looking at this. Nothing’s come out of it yet, but they’re certainly looking at it.”

    Antimicrobials have been discovered everywhere from frog skin to panda blood, but none of them have made it to the medicine cabinet yet.

    Davies says it can be hard to isolate useful quantities of the active chemicals in these sources, and they may be difficult chemicals to produce in the lab.

    Plus, Davies says, “It’s fine to find an antibiotic, but half of them are toxic.”

    Scientists are working to overcome these hurdles.

    Bacteria talking?

    Davies says these chemicals may be more than just microbe killers. He points to the emerging field of research on microbe-to-microbe chemical communication.

    “And you can ask the question, ‘Are they killing each other, or are they talking to each other?’”

    But, with antibiotic-resistant infections a growing threat worldwide, killing the microbes is scientists' current priority.

    Steve Baragona

    Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health.

    He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora