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.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid