Photo: KENPEI, Wikimedia Commons.
Researchers have isolated an antimicrobial peptide from swallowtail butterflies, Papilio xuthus (image above). After creating a synthesized version of the peptide they called Papiliocin, they wanted to know how it worked. What they found was that Papiliocin causes yeast cells (Candida albicans) to accumulate reactive oxygen species, which triggers a process called apoptosis, or programmed cell death. To see a neat video describing apoptosis, click here.
Papiliocin is not only an anti-fungal. This versatile peptide is also antibacterial, although researchers have not yet studied the mechanism by which it kills bacteria.
Just another example of how an adaptation in animals may be useful to humans.
Kim SR, Hong MY, Park SW, Choi KH, Yun EY, Goo TW, Kang SW, Suh HJ, Kim I, Hwang JS. Characterization and cDNA cloning of a cecropin-like antimicrobial peptide, papiliocin, from the swallowtail butterfly, Papilio xuthus. Mol Cells. 2010 Apr;29(4):419-23.
Lee J, Hwang JS, Hwang B, Kim JK, Kim SR, Kim Y, Lee DG. Influence of the papiliocin peptide derived from Papilio xuthus on the perturbation of fungal cell membranes. FEMS Microbiol Lett. 2010 Oct;311(1):70-5.
Hwang B, Hwang JS, Lee J, Kim JK, Kim SR, Kim Y, Lee DG. Induction of yeast apoptosis by an antimicrobial peptide, Papiliocin. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2011 Apr 29;408(1):89-93.