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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More