Ants May Hold Our Future in Their Exoskeletons

Antibiotic resistance is a growing threat to the human population. Scientists are on the search for new ways to fight this growing threat. In march the ants. A new study published in the Royal Society Open Science journal found that “not only do ants produce their own antimicrobial agents, but they can also encourage other beneficial microbes to grow.” Ants are a lot like us, or so the scientists claim:

Like humans, the more than 12,000 species of ants are all highly social. This behaviour increases the chance that they come into to contact with germs. Comparable to our towns and cities, ant colonies take communal living to the next level, with up to tens of millions of individuals cohabiting in a single nest.

First of all, 12,000 species of ants?! That thought alone is enough to kill my appetite, which is a feat in and of itself. And the phrase “tens of millions” of ants is definitely going to seep into a nightmare for me one day. Regardless, scientists say that:

Millions of years of evolution in a high-risk environment have made ants a potential source of vital antimicrobials…This adds to the idea that ants could well be a good source of new antibiotics…

For example, researchers recently discovered a bacterium living among one ant species that produces compounds capable of killing harmful bacteria resistant to conventional antibiotics, including the common superbug MRSA.

Experts hope these substances could be turned into drugs that would be tested in human trials, a potential major breakthrough in the fight against antibiotic resistance. In light of this information, I’m willing to look just a little more kindly at the ant infestations my apartment suffers in the summer months, but just barely.

Can the Zika Virus Treat Brain Cancer?

The Zika virus, which rose to epidemic proportions in 2015, can cause devastating congenital brain abnormalities and has been linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a condition in which the immune system attacks the nerves and can result in paralysis. It’s transmitted by everyone’s favorite insects, mosquitoes. (Actually, my favorite insects are dead ones.) According to the CDC, many people will have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, but for pregnant woman, the danger of passing the virus onto the fetus is high. This has had heartbreaking consequences. In a study discussed in the NY Times:

But 15 children, eight girls and seven boys, had a range of symptoms, most of which had not improved since infancy. All had severely impaired motor skills, with all but one child meeting the conditions for a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. Most had seizures and sleeping problems. Eight had been hospitalized at some point, most for bronchitis or pneumonia. Nine had difficulty eating or swallowing, which can be life-threatening because food can get stuck in the lungs or the children can be malnourished.

However, it seems the very thing that allows the Zika virus to cause such devastation in babies may be the key to a new brain cancer treatment. A new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, showed that injecting the Zika virus in mice “shrank aggressive tumors… yet left other brain cells unscathed.”

Human trials are still a way off, but experts believe Zika virus could potentially be injected into the brain at the same time as surgery to remove life-threatening tumours…

Researcher Dr Michael Diamond said: “Once we add a few more changes, I think it’s going to be impossible for the virus to overcome them and cause disease.

“It looks like there’s a silver lining to Zika. This virus that targets cells that are very important for brain growth in babies, we could use that now to target growing tumours.”