October 2, 2008

Pine Beetles Carry Antibiotic Molecule

U.S. scientists say they've discovered pine beetles carry an antibiotic molecule that can destroy pathogenic fungi -- something no drugs can yet achieve.

A team led by Harvard Medical School Professor John Clardy and University of Wisconsin Professor Cameron Curie say the findings suggest a potential new source of pharmaceuticals and also demonstrate how symbiotic relationships are essential for the diversification of life and evolution of organisms.

The scientists say a pine beetle about to go into labor carries a few hundred eggs, as well as spores for Entomocorticium -- a nourishing fungal baby food for the beetle's gestating larvae.

At the same time, mites attached to the beetle's shell carry a supply of Ophiostoma minus, a pathogenic fungus that can wipe out the entire supply of fungal larvae food. The mite releases the toxin but, at the same time, the beetle releases actinomycetes, a bacterium that neutralizes the toxic fungi.

The discovery of that process has added a molecular dimension to the chemical ecology of a complex multilateral system, Clardy said.

The research that also included Jarrod Scott, Dong-Chan Oh, M. Cetin Yuceer and Kier Klepzig appears in the journal Science.