Researchers found that healing compounds in scorpion venom can be used for bacterial infections

An image of a scorpion to illustrate the concept that scorpion venom could be used for bacterial infections
© iStock/DavidOrr

Scorpion venom native to Eastern Mexico contains colour-changing compounds that could be used to fight bacterial infections.

Synthesising the compounds from the scorpion venom meant that the research team from Stanford University School of Humanities and Sciences found the antimicrobial properties which could be used to treat bacterial infections and produced in larger quantities.

Killing bacteria with compounds from scorpion venom

The team isolated the compounds in the scorpion venom, then synthesised them in the lab to show that these kill staphylococcus and drug-resistant tuberculosis bacteria in tissue samples and mice.

The study senior author Richard Zare explained: “We found that these compounds killed bacteria, but then the question became ‘Will it kill you, too?’ And the answer is no: Hernández-Pando’s group showed that the blue compound kills tuberculosis bacteria but leaves the lining of the lungs in mice intact.”

Why does a scorpion produce these compounds?

Zare added: “These compounds might not be the poisonous component of the venom. We have no idea why the scorpion makes these compounds. There are more mysteries.”

“By volume, scorpion venom is one of the most precious materials in the world. It would costs $39 million to produce a gallon of it. 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.

Lourival Possani, a professor of molecular medicine at the National University of Mexico, whose students caught specimens of the scorpion Diplocentrus melici for study, said: “The collection of this species of scorpion is difficult because during the winter and dry seasons, the scorpion is buried. We can only find it in the rainy season…The amount of venom components we can get from the animals is extremely low. The synthesis of the compounds was decisive for the success of this work.”

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