News

Catfish skin mucus yields promising antibacterial compound

Anne Frances Johnson
March 24, 2024

Scientists report they have extracted a compound with powerful antibacterial properties from the skin of farmed African catfish. Although additional testing is necessary to prove the compound is safe and effective for use as future antibiotic, the researchers say it could one day represent a potent new tool against antimicrobial-resistant bacteria such as extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) producing E. coli.

Hedmon Okella is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Davis, and led the project.

Scientists have extracted a compound with powerful antibacterial properties from the skin of farmed African catfish. The peptide could represent a potent new tool against antimicrobial-resistant infections, according to research presented at Discover BMB in San Antonio.
Scientists extracted a compound with powerful antibacterial properties from the skin of farmed African catfish. The peptide could be a potent new tool against antimicrobial-resistant infections, according to research presented at Discover BMB in San Antonio.

“The global public health threat due to antimicrobial resistance necessitates the search for safe and effective new antibacterial compounds,” Okella said. “In this case, fish-derived antimicrobial peptides present a promising source of potential leads.”

Okella will present the new research at Discover BMB, the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which is being held March 23–26 in San Antonio.

For the study, the researchers extracted several peptides (short chains of amino acids) from African catfish skin mucus and used machine learning algorithms to screen them for potential antibacterial activity. They then chemically synthesized the most promising peptide, called NACAP-II, and tested its efficacy and safety on ESBL-E. coli and mammalian blood cells, respectively.

These tests showed that NACAP-II caused the bacteria to break open, or lyse, without appearing to harm the mammalian blood cells. “Preliminary findings indicate that this promising peptide candidate potentially disrupts the bacterial cell envelope to cause lysis at a very low concentration,” Okella said.

The place where the peptide was found — in the mucus on the skin of farmed African catfish — is not as unlikely as it may seem. As anyone who has tried to hold one can attest, fish are enveloped in a slippery layer of mucus. This mucus is known to protect the fish against infections by physically carrying germs off of the skin and by producing antimicrobial compounds such as the one Okella’s team isolated.

Many existing medicines are based on compounds that were first found in nature, and scientists speculate that marine and aquatic organisms represent a particularly rich — though largely untapped — source of bioactive compounds.

As a next step, the researchers plan to study the peptide’s effects in animal models and explore strategies to produce it inexpensively.

“We are currently utilizing chemical synthesis to upscale the production of this peptide that we believe will one day be of use as drug candidate in the battle against antimicrobial resistance,” Okella said.

Hedmon Okella will present this research from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. CDT on Sunday, March 24, in the exhibit hall of the Henry B. González Convention Center (Poster Board No. 86) (abstract). 

Enjoy reading ASBMB Today?

Become a member to receive the print edition monthly and the digital edition weekly.

Learn more
Anne Frances Johnson

Anne Frances Johnson is founder and lead science writer at Creative Science Writing based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

Get the latest from ASBMB Today

Enter your email address, and we’ll send you a weekly email with recent articles, interviews and more.

Latest in Science

Science highlights or most popular articles

Iron could be key to treating a global parasitic disease
Journal News

Iron could be key to treating a global parasitic disease

April 16, 2024

A study has found that leishmaniasis causes body-wide changes in iron balance, leading to red blood cell damage.

Environmental DNA is everywhere
News

Environmental DNA is everywhere

April 14, 2024

The ability to extract trace bits of DNA from soil, water, and even air is revolutionizing science. Are there pitfalls?

Early COVID-19 research is riddled with poor methods and low-quality results
News

Early COVID-19 research is riddled with poor methods and low-quality results

April 13, 2024

The pandemic worsened, but didn’t create, this problem for science.

From the journals: MCP
Journal News

From the journals: MCP

April 12, 2024

Three views of mass spec: analyzing secreted protein spectra, imaging mass spectrometry for clinical use and spectral libraries for MS data analysis. Read about these recent papers.

Understanding the fat science
Journal News

Understanding the fat science

April 9, 2024

Researchers at UCLA investigate lipid remodeling in the liver for energy generation.

No oxygen? No problem
Journal News

No oxygen? No problem

April 8, 2024

By studying how electric fish survive in hypoxic streams for months at time, researchers may find new ways to target tumors.