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Snake Peptide Puts the Bite on Superbugs

Researchers have shown why a fragment of a protein from the venom gland of rattlesnakes could be the basis for a safe alternative to conventional antibiotics.

The research, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry (, showed that the crotalidicin peptide targets the surface of the bacteria through electrostatic attractions caused by differences in membrane properties.

“The peptide is positive while the bacteria is negative, allowing it to kill the bacteria by inserting and disrupting the membrane,” said Dr Sónia Henriques of The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience. “Because the cells in the body hosting the infection are neutral, they are not disrupted.”

Previous research has found that the peptide fragment retains the antimicrobial potency of the full peptide but is less toxic to other cells.

Henriques said the research was conducted on bacterial strains that cause serious hospital-acquired infections. “These are usually difficult to target because they have an extra membrane and are often camouflaged by a capsule or slime layer,” she said.

Henriques said the research was significant due to the increase in drug-resistant strains of bacteria, and the scarcity of conventional antibiotics in development. “This is an example of taking what nature has given us... so we can modify it to be more potent, more stable or more drug-like, to use as an alternative to what we have in our pharmacy now.”