Sept. 7 (UPI) -- A protein produced by honey bees could inspire the first new antibiotic in 30 years.
Health officials are desperate for new antibiotics as dangerous bacterial strains strengthen their resistance against long-used drugs.
Every year in the United States, 2 million people are infected with drug-resistant bacteria. For 23,000 people, the infection and related complications prove fatal.
In a new study published this week in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, researchers highlight the promising Api137, a protein capable of blocking protein production in harmful bacteria.
The protein is produced naturally by bees, wasps and hornets, and helps keep the insects infection-free.
Most antibiotics disrupt protein production by targeting the ribosome inside bacterial cells. The ribosome is responsible for synthesizing the proteins that allow bacteria cells to function.
Api137 -- an antibacterial peptide, or small protein -- works by thwarting DNA translation, the genomic process that sees genetic instructions read and translated into fresh proteins.
The latest analysis of Api137 -- carried out by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago -- has helped scientists better understand exactly how the protein works. Now, scientists are working to replicate, or synthesize, the peptide in the lab.
"This project was a result of an excellent collaboration of our team," researcher Vázquez-Laslop said in a news release. "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."