Natural pest control protein effective against hookworm: A billion could benefit

Jul 23, 2013

A benign crystal protein, produced naturally by bacteria and used as an organic pesticide, could be a safe, inexpensive treatment for parasitic worms in humans and provide effective relief to over a billion people around the world. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, report on this potentially promising solution in a study published ahead of print in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Hookworms, and other known as helminths infect more than 1 billion people in poverty-stricken, tropical nations, sucking the vitality from the body, and leaving hundreds of millions of children physically and mentally stunted. Current drugs are insufficiently effective, and resistance is rising, but little effort has been made to develop better drugs because the relevant populations do not represent a profitable market for drug companies.

"The challenge is that any cure must be very cheap, it must have the ability to be mass produced in tremendous quantities, safe, and able to withstand rough conditions, including lack of refrigeration, extreme heat, and remote locations," says Raffi Aroian, a researcher on the study.

In earlier research, Aroian and his collaborators described a protein, Cry5B, that can kill intestinal nematode parasites—such as human hookworms—in infected test animals (hamsters). Cry5B belongs to a family of proteins that are generally accepted as safe for humans. These proteins are produced naturally in Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), a bacterium which is applied to crops as a natural insecticide on some organic farms, and CryB proteins have been engineered into such as corn and rice, to render them pest resistant.

As shown for the first time in this paper, Cry5B can also be expressed in a species of bacterium, Bacillus subtilis, which is closely related to Bacillus thuringiensis, and which is also related to bacteria which are present in some probiotics, says Aroian. In the current research researchers showed that a small dose of Cry5B, expressed in this bacterium can achieve a 93 percent elimination of hookworm parasites from infected hamsters. That, says Aroian, is substantially better than current drugs.

The scientific significance of the research, he says, is that "bacteria similar to those that are food grade—which are cheap and can readily be mass produced—can be engineered to produce molecules that can cure parasitic diseases."

Explore further: Bacillus thuringiensis Cry4B toxin kills Anopheles gambiae, a principal vector of malaria

More information: Appl. Environ. Microbiol. doi:10.1128/AEM.01854-13

Related Stories

New drug prospect offers hope against hookworm infections

Jul 03, 2012

A drug candidate that is nearing clinical trials against a Latin American parasite is showing additional promise as a cure for hookworm, one of the most widespread and insidious parasites afflicting developing nations, according ...

Recommended for you

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

Apr 18, 2014

(Phys.org) —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

martina_schaefer_750
not rated yet Jul 23, 2013
It's BIO ENGINEERED...I wouldn't trust it!

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Finnish inventor rethinks design of the axe

(Phys.org) —Finnish inventor Heikki Kärnä is the man behind the Vipukirves Leveraxe, which is a precision tool for splitting firewood. He designed the tool to make the job easier and more efficient, with ...

Poll: Big Bang a big question for most Americans

Few Americans question that smoking causes cancer. But they have more skepticism than confidence in global warming, the age of the Earth and evolution and have the most trouble believing a Big Bang created the universe 13.8 ...