Livin' on the MD Edge: The Antimicrobial Peptide That Even Pharma Can Love

Lucas Franki, Richard Franki, and Teraya Smith

May 18, 2023

Fastest peptide north, south, east, aaaaand west of the Pecos

Bacterial infections are supposed to be simple. You get infected, you get an antibiotic to treat it. Easy. Some bacteria, though, don't play by the rules. Those antibiotics may kill 99.9% of germs, but what about the 0.1% that gets left behind? With their fallen comrades out of the way, the accidentally drug resistant species are free to inherit the Earth.

Antibiotic resistance is thus a major concern for the medical community. Naturally, anything that prevents doctors from successfully curing sick people is a priority. Unless you're a major pharmaceutical company that has been loath to develop new drugs that can beat antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Blah blah, time and money, blah blah, long time between development and market application, blah blah, no profit. We all know the story with pharmaceutical companies.

Research from other sources has continued, however, and Brazilian scientists recently published research involving a peptide known as plantaricin 149. This peptide, derived from the bacterium Lactobacillus plantarum, has been known for nearly 30 years to have antibacterial properties. Pln149 in its natural state, though, is not particularly efficient at bacteria-killing. Fortunately, we have science and technology on our side.

The researchers synthesized 20 analogs of Pln149, of which Pln149-PEP20 had the best results. The elegantly named compound is less than half the size of the original peptide, less toxic, and far better at killing any and all drug-resistant bacteria the researchers threw at it. How much better? Pln149-PEP20 started killing bacteria less than an hour after being introduced in lab trials.

The research is just in its early days – just because something is less toxic doesn't necessarily mean you want to go and help yourself to it – but we can only hope that those lovely pharmaceutical companies deign to look down upon us and actually develop a drug utilizing Pln149-PEP20 to, you know, actually help sick people, instead of trying to build monopolies or avoiding paying billions in taxes. Yeah, we couldn't keep a straight face through that last sentence either.

Speed healing: The wavy wound gets the swirl

Did you know that wavy wounds heal faster than straight wounds? Well, we didn't, but apparently quite a few people did, because somebody has been trying to figure out why wavy wounds heal faster than straight ones. Do the surgeons know about this? How about you dermatologists? Wavy over straight? We're the media. We're supposed to report this kind of stuff. Maybe hit us with a tweet next time you do something important, or push a TikTok our way, okay?

You could be more like the investigators at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, who figured out the why and then released a statement about it.


They created synthetic wounds – some straight, some wavy – in micropatterned hydrogel substrates that mimicked human skin. Then they used an advanced optical technique known as particle image velocimetry to measure fluid flow and learn how cells moved to close the wound gaps.

The wavy wounds "induced more complex collective cell movements, such as a swirly, vortex-like motion," according to the written statement from NTU Singapore. In the straight wounds, cell movements paralleled the wound front, "moving in straight lines like a marching band," they pointed out, unlike some researchers who never call us unless they need money.

Complex epithelial cell movements are better, it turns out. Over an observation period of 64 hours the NTU team found that the healing efficiency of wavy gaps – measured by the area covered by the cells over time – is nearly five times faster than straight gaps.

The complex motion "enabled cells to quickly connect with similar cells on the opposite site of the wound edge, forming a bridge and closing the wavy wound gaps faster than straight gaps," explained lead author Xu Hongmei, a doctoral student at NTU's School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who seems to have time to toss out a tumblr or two to keep the press informed.

As for the rest of you, would it kill you to pick up a phone once in a while? Maybe let a journalist know that you're still alive? We have feelings too, you know, and we worry.

A little Jekyll, a little Hyde, and a little shop of horrors

More "Little Shop of Horrors" references are coming, so be prepared.

We begin with Triphyophyllum peltatum. This woody vine is of great interest to medical and pharmaceutical researchers because its constituents have shown promise against pancreatic cancer and leukemia cells, among others, along with the pathogens that cause malaria and other diseases. There is another side, however. T. peltatum also has a tendency to turn into a realistic Audrey II when deprived.

No, of course they're not craving human flesh, but it does become … carnivorous in its appetite.

T. peltatum, native to the West African tropics and not found in a New York florist shop, has the unique ability to change its diet and development based on the environmental circumstances. For some unknown reason, the leaves would develop adhesive traps in the form of sticky drops that capture insect prey. The plant is notoriously hard to grow, however, so no one could study the transformation under lab conditions. Until now.


A group of German scientists "exposed the plant to different stress factors, including deficiencies of various nutrients, and studied how it responded to each," said Dr. Traud Winkelmann of Leibniz University Hannover. "Only in one case were we able to observe the formation of traps: in the case of a lack of phosphorus."

Well, there you have it: phosphorus. We need it for healthy bones and teeth, which this plant doesn't have to worry about, unlike its Tony Award–nominated counterpart. The investigators hope that their findings could lead to "future molecular analyses that will help understand the origins of carnivory," but we're guessing that a certain singing alien species will be left out of that research.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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