Synthesized scorpion venom kills dangerous bacteria

Researchers have managed to synthesize two scorpion venom compounds that are effective against certain strains of bacteria highly infectious to humans and without any side-effects.

Many animals produce venom that ranges from those that cause a mild irritation to those that could kill an adult human within minutes. There are also many venoms that have proven beneficial in the treatment of infections and diseases among humans.

For instance, the venom of a species of viper snakes that are native to Southeast Asia, has proven to improve the treatment of blood clots, while a key component in the venom of funnel web spider has been found to prevent brain damage following a stroke.

Scientists from Stanford University, in California, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, in Mexico City, have recently made another promising discovery: Two compounds from the venom of a scorpion native to Eastern Mexico, Diplocentrus melici, can fight off difficult bacteria without causing harm to healthy tissue.

The team conducted their research in mice, as well as in tissue samples, to test the compounds’ effectiveness and safety. After conducting several sensitive tests, the researchers deemed that two chemical compounds of 1,4-benzoquinone were responsible for one compound turning red and the other turning blue on exposure to air.

The two compounds that the team identified, which were previously unknown, were found to be structurally related, with the red one having an oxygen atom on one of its branches, while the blue one had a sulfur atom,

By volume, scorpion venom is one of the most precious materials in the world. It would cost $39 million to produce a gallon of it,” said one researcher. He added, “If you depended only on scorpions to produce it, nobody could afford it, so it’s important to identify what the critical ingredients are and be able to synthesize them.”

Given the fact that benzoquinones can kill bacterial strains, the researchers sent samples of the two newly discovered compounds to scientists at the Salvador Zubirán National Institute of Health Sciences and Nutrition, in Mexico City.

The team at Salvador Zubirán were able to chemically synthesize the compounds and found that red 1,4-benzoquinone effectively destroyed Staphylococcus aureus, which is highly infectious, while blue 1,4-benzoquinone was able to kill different strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which are responsible for tuberculosis, including strains that had developed resistance to multiple antibiotics.

While proving fatal to bacteria, the two compounds also did not have any deleterious effect on tissues and organs of the tested mice making them potential candidates for new drugs and therapies.