Scientists discover new antimicrobial, name it after Keanu Reeves

In a paper published this past month in “Journal of the American Chemical Society,” scientists named new antimicrobial particles “Keanumycins” after actor Keanu Reeves since they “are so efficient at killing different microbial species” and Reeves “played many iconic killers in his cinematic career.”

One important discovery highlighted by the paper was the antimicrobial called “Keanumycin A,” which is extremely effective at inhibiting the fungus known as gray mold in over 1,000 plant species. In an international survey of fungal pathologists, gray mold was voted second in scientific and economic importance due to the damage the fungus causes.

But what exactly is an antimicrobial? Antimicrobials are the class of medicines that are used to prevent and treat infections that include antibiotics and antivirals.

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing concern, however. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites will change over time in response to antimicrobials, which in turn makes infections harder to treat. As such, antimicrobials become ineffective and infections become harder or impossible to treat.

“Many human-pathogenic fungi are now resistant to antimycotics (antifungals) — partly because they are used in large quantities in agricultural fields,” study co-author Sebastian Götze said in a statement.

As such, antimicrobial development has been decreasing since it was deemed unprofitable. Most antibiotics are natural products or come from some sort of natural product, and the cost of discovering new natural product-based structures has increased significantly. As such, most pharmaceutical companies have abandoned this field of research.

The group of researchers, including those from Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology in Germany, said that these antimicrobials can be an “environmentally friendly alternative” to the traditional chemical pesticides. The Keanumycins have been tested against gray mold rot on hydrangea leaves, where it was found to be highly effective. Since these Keanumycins have not been used before, they may advance the fight against drug-resistant fungi.

Researchers extracted these “killer” compounds from bacteria from the genus Pseudomonas. Members of this genus are “very toxic” to amoeba that feed on bacteria, so they are good candidates for being antimicrobials. Scientists have labeled three different Keanumycins as “A,” “B,” and “C.”

While Keanumycins are effective against plant fungi, they also appear to “strongly inhibit” the human pathogenic fungus Candida albicans. While C. albicans doesn’t harm humans, it's important to know that these antimicrobials work against human infections as well.

These latest developments are an important step for scientists to develop new antimicrobials that can fight drug-resistant infections.