Cockroaches Have Super Antibiotics in Their Brains; We Must Steal Them

By Andrew Moseman | September 10, 2010 12:53 pm

CockroachCockroaches take advantage of our messy hospitality, skulking around in the cracks and holes of our houses and devouring the scraps we leave behind. Soon, though, maybe we’ll be the ones taking advantage of their fondness for filth.

The brains of these insects carry some serious antibiotics—strong enough to slaughter bacteria that have evolved resistance to the hospital antibiotics we use. The researchers presented their work at the Society for General Microbiology meeting this week in England, and say that while the finding is terrific, it’s no surprise given the roaches’ living circumstances:

“Some of these insects live in the filthiest places ever known to man,” says Naveed Khan, coauthor of the new study. “These insects crawl on dead tissue, in sewage, in drainage areas. We thought, ‘How do they cope with all the bacteria and parasites?’” [Science News]

The scientist extracted cockroach brains, as well as neural tissue from locusts, and found them saturated with at least nine molecules that acted as antibiotics. In lab tests, the cockroach antibiotics laid waste to resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Escherichia coli (E. coli). In separate tests, they didn’t appear to bother human cells, either.

“We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into treatments for E. coli and MRSA infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs,” said study team member Simon Lee. [MSNBC]

Eventually is the key word—the team is still working just to identify all the molecules at play here. And they don’t know all the mechanics of how these insects muster their defenses: whether the molecules work together in concert, for instance.

For more about cockroach brains, check out our zombie animals photo gallery to see the wasp that injects venom into roach brains and turns them into zombies. Or, if you’d rather not think about disgusting insects any more before the weekend, we understand.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Zombie Animals and the Parasites That Control Them (PHOTOS)
DISCOVER: Consciousness in a Cockroach
DISCOVER: The Biomechanics of Cockroaches
DISCOVER: 5 Next-Gen Antibiotics That Could Save Your Life
80beats: Accidental Awesomeness: Ancient Nubians Made Antibiotic Beer

Image: Wikimedia Commons

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts
  • Rhacodactylus

    Sweet another 10 year reprieve from the end of the antibiotic age!

  • John

    epic saucery

  • beanfeast

    @1 But at least at the end of this 10 year reprieve the cockroaches should start dying as well.

  • Jo

    @3: Only if the bacteria we’re using it on infects roaches as well. But if that were the case … they’d probably evolve new antibiotics … and we could extract it all over again. Win!

  • Concentric

    What do we (humans) do with this knowledge? That is the question. Can we learn to live forever from the cockroach brain? Can we isolate this capability that roaches have and use it to heal us (humans)???

  • scribbler

    Live forever?

    You mean like beyond the end of the universe and all?

  • me

    I for one welcome our new roach brain ingesting overlords.

  • Wesley

    @4: Bacteria swap genes all the time. @3 is right, that we could be effectively neutralizing large parts of the cock roaches immune system, and any other bugs that use the same or similar antibiotics.. Hopefully with the new antibiotics we find like these ones we’re a little more cautious than we were with the first ones we developed!

  • Anadactyl

    I just want to figure out how to live without a head.

  • Jumblepudding

    I say we call the new antibiotic derived from cockroach brains Kafkacycline.

  • Andrew Moseman

    @Jumblepudding, “When the cockroach woke up one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrously powerful antibiotic.”

  • Toby

    Dont do it, it’s not “we” that have discovered the next step. It is the bugs living with us, recognizing another stage of evolution to develop their growing powers. Soon all of the earth will be covered in mould, and bacteria. Infesting our bodies and destroying much living tissue. The much anticipated plague of boils and sores on the earth, it’s happened before see. Look back into our genetic repository and you will find, remnants of our resistance.
    I’m sorry I have worked with bacteria for 10 years, you will not kill them, in their simplicity lies the key to their stranglehold. We must find something simple to kill them, or as pastuer would say, just change the host ph. Then many bugs die. Where there is no habitat, nothing can survive, let those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

  • mengu gulmen

    great, so let’s make the bacteria resistant to cockroach antibiotics too. so they too will be extinct. great plan.

    don’t fight the bacteria guys, you can’t win.

  • Dave K.

    If we just cultivated bacterophages instead of looking for dumb molecules, we’d be able to keep up with any bacterial evolution of resistance because the phages would evolve more quickly.

  • chrystalala

    @1-14: I invite you all to a mixer at my house. I’ll be serving Staphylococcus cocktails, with a phage chaser. Should be a wild ride!! Keep studying, it looks good on you.

  • barry

    @12 Pretty much. It will only delay the inevitable. We’ve learn’t given enough time, bacteria will adapt to just about anything. It’s not like all bacteria are out to kills us. Many have adapted to work with our bodies. It’s about maintaining balance.

    Population was, and will always be the biggest problem in maintaining this balance. They’re trying to survive just as we are.

  • Well Now

    @9 So many live without a brain…evolution will either dispense with the remaining head soon or use it to house parasites…..perhaps a petri dish for roach brains!

  • Bala Bafoofkit

    What about quorum defeating agents?

  • hhh

    I like bacteria!

  • DCP – i think you all need a bit more of this…

  • clement

    Anadactyl cockroaches has more than one brains


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