Bacterial compounds recently discovered by German scientists were so skilled in evading predatory amoebas and slaughtering enemies that they named them “keanumycins,” after the legendary actor Keanu Reeves.
“Keanu Reeves plays many iconic roles in which he is extremely efficient in ‘inactivating’ his enemies,” Pierre Stallforth, a researcher and a professor of paleobiotechnology at Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology in Jena, Germany, recently told the New York Times.
“The keanumycins do the same with fungi.”
Keanumycins are peptides, short chains of amino acids, that allow Pseudomonas bacteria to evade predatory amoebas. In addition to being “amoebicidal,” keanumycins are able to “drastically inhibit” the infection of hydrangea, a flowering plant native to Japan, with Botrytis cinerea, one of the most destructive fungal pathogens, according to an article published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
B. cinerea infects myriad types of crops and causes $10 billion to $100 billion of production loss annually worldwide, according to a 2020 article in Pathogens.
Keanumycins “create holes in the surface of the pathogen, and it ‘bleeds’ to death,” the study’s lead author, Sebastian Götze, a postdoctorate in paleobiotechnology at the Leibniz Institute in Germany, told the Times.
“Like Keanu Reeves in his many roles as a proficient killer, the newly discovered molecules can also very efficiently, at low concentrations, kill different human fungal pathogens, by riddling them with holes.”
The discovery of keanumycins is good news for crops. And it might be good news for humans: The newly discovered compounds were shown to strongly inhibit the growth of Candida albicans, which causes thrush, vaginal yeast infections, and invasive candidiasis in people.
The discovery could lead to the creation of new antifungals for both crops and people—a welcome development given the global threat posed by antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial resistance, which includes antibiotic resistance, occurs when bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites evolve over time, becoming less responsive to medicines, making infections increasingly difficult, or impossible, to treat.
In a Reddit thread held with Reeves last weekend, the actor said the scientists should have named the newly discovered compounds after John Wick, a character he plays in a movie series. Wick is a former hit man who exits retirement to track down the gangsters who killed his dog and stole his car.
“But that’s pretty cool,” Reeves wrote. “And surreal for me. But thanks, scientist people! Good luck, and thank you for helping us.”
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