Honeybees Stop Bacterial Invaders Naturally

In Brief:

Prior to the discovery of penicillin in 1928, bacterial infection was an unstoppable killer. Since then we have come to rely on antibiotics to treat common illnesses like strep throat or ear infections without fear of fatal complications. Unfortunately, some bacteria are developing resistance to specific antibiotics, which is rendering them less and less effective. Deadly antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria like MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) are popping up in patients around the US. In fact, 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria and over 23,000 die from these infections each year. Additionally, the cost of medical care is increasing due to longer hospital stays. For example, it is estimated that C. difficile, an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria that causes life-threatening diarrhea, accounts for several billions of dollars in extra medical costs each year.

Scientists working with Dr. Alexander Mankin at the University of Illinois at Chicago are developing a new approach to fighting bacterial infections using Apidaecin, a protein found in honeybees. First discovered in 1989 by Belgian scientists, Apidaecin stops bacterial growth. Researchers in Dr. Mankin’s lab have expanded understanding of the protein by studying how Apidaecin works: it stops bacteria in a way that no other antibiotic does.

Apidaecin takes action during protein translation.

Apidaecin is produced by honeybees as part of their defense against bacteria and other microbial invaders. It is present in lymph, a fluid that is part of the immune system that protects them. Apidaecin targets ribosomes, which manufacture proteins needed for essential cellular functions, like converting food into energy. Ribosomes use a process called translation to make proteins. During translation, the ribosome strings together amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. Translation happens in three stages: initiation, elongation, and termination. Dr. Mankin explains: “Initiation, when the first amino acid is added, is like turning on a car. The elongation stage, when the amino acids are continuously added to lengthen the protein, is like driving a car. The termination stage, when the protein is finished and is released into the cell, is like parking and turning off a car.”

Unlike most antibiotics that stop protein production during initiation or elongation, Apidaecin goes into action during the termination stage. Just as the ribosome is about to release the protein and shut down, Apidaecin puts the ribosome in park and permanently shuts it down, eventually killing the bacteria. Dr. Mankin and his team hope that Apidaecin can defend against bacteria that have become resistant to antibiotics that are currently in use. Because there have been no other antibiotics that function like Apidaecin, very few bacteria are resistant to it. Consequently, Apidaecin is a promising weapon against the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.


Dr. Alexander Mankin is a professor and director at the Center for Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy. He obtained his Ph.D. from Moscow University. His lab focuses on studying the ribosome and new classes of antibiotics.

Tanja Florin is a graduate student who works in Dr. Mankin’s lab. Her Ph.D. dissertation is based on the research being done in the lab, including the research presented in the article above.

Works Cited

  1. “Antibiotic/Antimicrobial Resistance.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 March 2018.
  2. Casteels, P, et al. “Apidaecins: antibacterial peptides from honeybees.” The EMBO Journal, vol. 8, no. 8, Aug 1989, pp. 2387-2391.
  3. Florin, Tanja, et al. “An antimicrobial peptide that inhibits translation by trapping release factors on the ribosome.” Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, vol. 24, no. 9, Sep 2017, pp. 752-757.
  4. “Inhibition of Protein Synthesis by Antibiotics.” Sigma-Aldrich, Sigma-Aldrich, 2006, www.sigmaaldrich.com/technical-documents/articles/biofiles/inhibition-of-protein.html.
  5. Ventola, C. Lee. “The Antibiotic Resistance Crisis: Part 1: Causes and Threats.” Pharmacy and Therapeutics, vol. 40, no. 4, Apr 2015, pp. 277-283.

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This article was written by Rudra Amin. As always, before leaving a response to this article please view our Rules of Conduct. Thanks! -cSw Editorial Staff