Insects and their associated microorganisms contain a wide array of unique chemicals with interesting biological properties. Prospecting for useful biological chemicals present in the “goldmine” of insect biodiversity is an ongoing process.
The mud dauber wasps construct nests of mud and provision them with prey. The mud dauber larvae are sealed within the mud chamber, protected from other insects. The hard mud allows the larvae to feed, grow and develop in peace. However, the enclosure is dark, dank and presumably an environment ripe for the growth of microorganisms. Do mud daubers produce antibiotic chemicals to suppress harmful microorganisms?
Writing in PLoS One, Michael Poulsen et al. describe a study of the mud dauber wasps, (Sceliphron caementarium and Chalybion californicum. Sceliphron caementarium and Chalybion californicum are common in Indiana and have been previously discussed in this blog.) Poulsen and colleagues isolated a number of bacteria of the species, Streptomyces from the two species of mud dauber.
Several antimicrobial chemicals were isolated and identified from the study including the novel antifungal chemical, Sceliphrolactam. Will sceliphrolactam be a commercially useful fungicide? It is too early to tell. New drugs require years of safety testing before they reach the market. Sometimes, the original chemical is not itself useful, but can serve as a model for chemists to create analog chemicals with more useful properties. The study results suggest that mud dauabers and associated microorganisms are a potential source for new biologically active materials.
Human activity, especially in the tropics, is eliminating insect species at an alarming rate. Why should we care? We are eliminating potentially valuable sources of new biomaterials. Prospecting for useful biomaterials is an important scientific economic argument for preserving endangered habitats that support insect biodiversity.