New Fungus-Killing Compounds Named After Keanu Reeves


Whoa. Scientists in Germany have identified new fungus killing compounds that are so excellent that they’ve named these peptides after Keanu Reeves. Yep, these peptides are now called “keanumycins” after the actor who has starred in the Bill and Ted movies, the Matrix movies, the John Wick movies, The Replacements, Speed, and many other hits. A recent publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society detailed how a team of researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology in Jena, Germany, isolated, characterized, and tested keanumycins A-C. And apparently the efficient killing potential of these peptides was so John Wick-esque in the eyes of the Leibniz Institute team that they .

This certainly wasn’t the first time that something biological was named after a celebrity. There are already a bunch of beetles—meaning insects and not floppy-haired musicians—that bear celebrity-based names such as Agaporomorphus colberti named after late night talk show host Stephen Colbert, Agra catbellae named after actress Catherine Bell, Agra katewinsletae named after actress Kate Winslet, and Agra liv named after actress Liv Tyler. Movie star and martial artist Jackie Chan has had two organisms named after him, a lizard Cnemaspis jackieii and a wasp Acrotaphus jackiechani, which makes you wonder what would happen if the lizard ever encountered the wasp. There’s also a spider named Aptostichus angelinajolieae that drew its name from actress Angelina Jolie. And take a wild guess as to where the parasitic wasp Conobregma bradpitti got its name. In fact, there are so many insects named after celebrities that you could probably re-create a bunch of movie scenes with insects alone.

But rather than name a bug after Reeves, Leibniz Institute team named something from a bug after Reeves, a different type of bug, an infectious bacterial bug. They found keanumycins A-C in Pseudomonas bacteria. These bacteria use such peptides to protect themselves against amoeba because no one want to be cornered in a dark alleyway by a bunch of amoeba. You may have heard of Pseudomonas because they’re kind of all over the place in the environment around you including the water and soil. There are over 190 different species of Pseudomonas, many of which can cause various types of infections in humans. But like politicians, Pseudomonas bacteria aren’t necessarily all bad all the time. They can be helpful at times. Over the past several decades, farmers have been using certain types of Pseudomonas for the practice of biocontrol. Applying such bacteria to seeds or the soil can help prevent particular microbes from growing and destroying crops.

Testing by the Leibniz Institute team found that the keanumycins had strong antimycotic activity against Botrytis cinerea even at fairly low concentrations. Antimycotic may sound a bit like antipsychotic but the two terms mean two very different things. If someone is mycotic, you may want to give that person a bath, because mycotic means “of, relating to, or caused by a fungus,” according to By contrast, a bath may not work so well with someone who is psychotic. Therefore, antimycotic activity is the ability of a compound to inactivate or kill fungus. The publication in the Journal of the American Chemical Society described how the Leibniz Institute team team applied the liquid from Pseudomonas cultures to Hydrangea macrophylla leaves and saw how this liquid alone could inhibit the growth of Botrytis cinerea.

Botrytis cinerea is the Agent Smith, the Iosef Tarasov, and the Howard Payne combined of plant pathogens. It’s a bad, bad fungus that’s not very fun. This fungus species can go airborne and land on different plants. It’s been known to infect over 200 different plant species. You could fill multiple salad bars and greenhouses with the different types of plants that Botrytis cinerea can infect and destroy. When the fungus infects a plant, it typically creates grey fluffy thread-like structures covering the surface of the plant. This is why Botrytis cinerea infections have earned the moniker “grey mould.” The fungus can secrete various chemicals than in turn weaken a plant’s defenses and destroys the plant’s cells. Each year Botrytis cinerea costs the world an estimated $10 billion to $100 billion in plant losses. Finding this fungus on your crops or your plant collection can be a bit like finding a bomb on a bus. It can be rather disastrous since this fungus is resistant to many different pesticides and chemicals.

That’s just one growing reason why the identification of keanumycins is potentially a big step. Botrytis cinerea is typically not a direct threat to your health unless you happen to have asthma or some other respiratory problem that may be exacerbated by the presence of the fungus in the air. But there are other types of fungi that can cause disease in humans. One example is Candida albicans. This fungus is responsible for vaginal yeast infections, diaper rash, and oral thrush, yet another reason why it’s a bad idea to swallow used diapers. The Leibniz Institute team conducted a genome-wide microarray analysis that suggested that some form of keanumycin A may eventually be effective against Candida albicans. Thus, keanumycins could someday lead to a variety of different anti-mycotic agents.

It’s not clear for sure whether and when this discovery may lead to a red pill, blue pill, or any other color pill situation for humans. One things for sure. If this does lead to a medication that can help combat fungal spores, the medication won’t be called Neosporin. That name’s taken already.

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