A wasp's sting

by Vivienne Baillie Gerritsen

Nature has always inspired humans. We extract scents from flowers to make perfume, and use pigments from minerals to reproduce colours. We copy the streamlined bodies of birds to build planes, and mimic the toughness of spider silk to design textiles. As our knowledge accumulates, and technology evolves, we have even reached a point where we are able to tamper with the very basics of Nature to twist it to our advantage. Take antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) for example. AMPs are used by organisms - humans included - across every kingdom to fight off viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. Despite this, millions of humans are infected each year by pathogens they are unable to fight off and for which no antidote exists. So researchers have turned to animal venom, which not only provides an easy way of isolating therapeutic toxins but also a precious source of AMPs into which scientists can dip. One particular AMP from the venom of a tropical wasp, Polybia paulista, appears not only to present anti-cancer properties but also to fight off an infection known as Chagas disease which affects millions of people every year and worldwide. Its name? Polybia-CP.

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Protein Spotlight (ISSN 1424-4721) is a monthly review written by the Swiss-Prot team of the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics. Spotlight articles describe a specific protein or family of proteins on an informal tone. Follow us: Subscribe · Twitter · Facebook

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“I recently stumbled upon your columns. Let me congratulate you on achieving the near impossible, for your articles have enabled me to successfully marry IT with the Life Sciences and better explain the concepts of bioinformatics to those who are not in the know of the field.

Your articles are very well written, lucid, and contain just enough information to excite the reader to want to learn more about the topic being discussed. They fall in a very rare category where they are accessible to everyone, from the undergraduate students to research students who want to have a basic idea of the topics being discussed. Some of your articles, like "Our hollow architecture" and "Throb" are outstanding pieces.

I would highly recommend your articles as a necessary reading in undergrad classes to get students inspired about the various avenues of research.”

— Rohan Chaubal, Senior Researcher in Genomics

Thank you to Ralf Sommer whose work we reproduce on our site!