A pinboard by
Samira Aili

PhD student , University of Technology Sydney


Isolation and characterisation of insecticidal peptides from ants

The ever growing need for a solution to combat world hunger is now a problem that can be seemingly addressed by considering a different problem, the insect pest problem. Venoms, as sources of peptide drug leads, are becoming an increasingly popular field of research, mainly due to current advances in genomics and mass spectrometry techniques. Ants are a diverse group of small insects, with 14,000 currently described species, however they are extremely understudied with only 8 of these venomous species being previously investigated. My PhD aims to find potential insecticidal peptides within ant venoms, to tap into this relatively untouched library of bioactive compounds. The aim of my PhD was therefore to characterise the peptide and protein content of ant venoms in order to understand their composition. So far, I have investigated and characterised the venom peptides, proteins or activity of 13 ant species. The results are promising with 3 of the 5 venoms tested for insecticidal activity showing significant activity. We are now in the process of separating these venoms to isolate the responsible peptide toxins, as we have discovered that the venoms have hundreds of different peptide and protein components within them. My research will benefit the world’s undernourished and poor population in two major ways, the first being that a bioinsecticide would increase crop yields and the second being that it could lead to a decrease in significant insect-transmitted health problems. We are particularly interested in bioinsecticides that are insect-selective, resulting in no side-effects on non-target organisms such as vertebrates.


The Biochemical Toxin Arsenal from Ant Venoms.

Abstract: Ants (Formicidae) represent a taxonomically diverse group of hymenopterans with over 13,000 extant species, the majority of which inject or spray secretions from a venom gland. The evolutionary success of ants is mostly due to their unique eusociality that has permitted them to develop complex collaborative strategies, partly involving their venom secretions, to defend their nest against predators, microbial pathogens, ant competitors, and to hunt prey. Activities of ant venom include paralytic, cytolytic, haemolytic, allergenic, pro-inflammatory, insecticidal, antimicrobial, and pain-producing pharmacologic activities, while non-toxic functions include roles in chemical communication involving trail and sex pheromones, deterrents, and aggregators. While these diverse activities in ant venoms have until now been largely understudied due to the small venom yield from ants, modern analytical and venomic techniques are beginning to reveal the diversity of toxin structure and function. As such, ant venoms are distinct from other venomous animals, not only rich in linear, dimeric and disulfide-bonded peptides and bioactive proteins, but also other volatile and non-volatile compounds such as alkaloids and hydrocarbons. The present review details the unique structures and pharmacologies of known ant venom proteinaceous and alkaloidal toxins and their potential as a source of novel bioinsecticides and therapeutic agents.

Pub.: 26 Jan '16, Pinned: 27 Jul '17

Diversity of peptide toxins from stinging ant venoms.

Abstract: Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) represent a taxonomically diverse group of arthropods comprising nearly 13,000 extant species. Sixteen ant subfamilies have individuals that possess a stinger and use their venom for purposes such as a defence against predators, competitors and microbial pathogens, for predation, as well as for social communication. They exhibit a range of activities including antimicrobial, haemolytic, cytolytic, paralytic, insecticidal and pain-producing pharmacologies. While ant venoms are known to be rich in alkaloids and hydrocarbons, ant venoms rich in peptides are becoming more common, yet remain understudied. Recent advances in mass spectrometry techniques have begun to reveal the true complexity of ant venom peptide composition. In the few venoms explored thus far, most peptide toxins appear to occur as small polycationic linear toxins, with antibacterial properties and insecticidal activity. Unlike other venomous animals, a number of ant venoms also contain a range of homodimeric and heterodimeric peptides with one or two interchain disulfide bonds possessing pore-forming, allergenic and paralytic actions. However, ant venoms seem to have only a small number of monomeric disulfide-linked peptides. The present review details the structure and pharmacology of known ant venom peptide toxins and their potential as a source of novel bioinsecticides and therapeutic agents.

Pub.: 03 Dec '14, Pinned: 27 Jul '17

Venom toxicity and composition in three Pseudomyrmex ant species having different nesting modes.

Abstract: We aimed to determine whether the nesting habits of ants have influenced their venom toxicity and composition. We focused on the genus Pseudomyrmex (Pseudomyrmecinae) comprising terrestrial and arboreal species, and, among the latter, plant-ants that are obligate inhabitants of myrmecophytes (i.e., plants sheltering ants in hollow structures). Contrary to our hypothesis, the venom of the ground-dwelling species, Pseudomyrmex termitarius, was as efficacious in paralyzing prey as the venoms of the arboreal and the plant-ant species, Pseudomyrmex penetrator and Pseudomyrmex gracilis. The lethal potency of P. termitarius venom was equipotent with that of P. gracilis whereas the venom of P. penetrator was less potent. The MALDI-TOF MS analysis of each HPLC fraction of the venoms showed that P. termitarius venom is composed of 87 linear peptides, while both P. gracilis and P. penetrator venoms (23 and 26 peptides, respectively) possess peptides with disulfide bonds. Furthermore, P. penetrator venom contains three hetero- and homodimeric peptides consisting of two short peptidic chains linked together by two interchain disulfide bonds. The large number of peptides in P. termitarius venom is likely related to the large diversity of potential prey plus the antibacterial peptides required for nesting in the ground. Whereas predation involves only the prey and predator, P. penetrator venom has evolved in an environment where trees, defoliating insects, browsing mammals and ants live in equilibrium, likely explaining the diversity of the peptide structures.

Pub.: 15 Jun '14, Pinned: 27 Jul '17

The complexity and structural diversity of ant venom peptidomes is revealed by mass spectrometry profiling.

Abstract: Compared with other animal venoms, ant venoms remain little explored. Ants have evolved complex venoms to rapidly immobilize arthropod prey and to protect their colonies from predators and pathogens. Many ants have retained peptide-rich venoms that are similar to those of other arthropod groups.With the goal of conducting a broad and comprehensive survey of ant venom peptide diversity, we investigated the peptide composition of venoms from 82 stinging ant species from nine subfamilies using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOFMS). We also conducted an in-depth investigation of eight venoms using reversed-phase high-performance liquid chromatography (RP-HPLC) separation coupled with offline MALDI-TOFMS.Our results reveal that the peptide compositions of ant venom peptidomes from both poneroid and formicoid ant clades comprise hundreds of small peptides (<4 kDa), while large peptides (>4 kDa) are also present in the venom of formicoids. Chemical reduction revealed the presence of disulfide-linked peptides in most ant subfamilies, including peptides structured by one, two or three disulfide bonds as well as dimeric peptides reticulated by three disulfide bonds.The biochemical complexity of ant venoms, associated with an enormous ecological and taxonomic diversity, suggests that stinging ant venoms constitute a promising source of bioactive molecules that could be exploited in the search for novel drug and biopesticide leads.

Pub.: 10 Sep '15, Pinned: 27 Jul '17

Combined peptidomic and proteomic analysis of electrically stimulated and manually dissected venom from the South American bullet ant Paraponera clavata.

Abstract: Ants have evolved venoms rich in peptides and proteins used for predation, defence and communication. However, they remain extremely understudied due to the minimal amount of venom secreted by each ant. The present study investigated the differences in the proteome and peptidome of the venom from the bullet ant, Paraponera clavata. Venom samples were collected from a single colony either by manual venom gland dissection or by electrical stimulation and were compared using proteomic methods. Venom proteins were separated by 2D-PAGE and identified by nanoLC-ESI-QTOF MS/MS. Venom peptides were initially separated using C18 reversed-phase high performance liquid chromatography then analysed by MALDI-TOF MS. The proteomic analysis revealed numerous proteins that could be assigned a biological function (total 94) mainly as toxins, or roles in cell regulation and transport. This investigation found that ca. 73% of the proteins were common to venoms collected by the two methods. The peptidomic analysis revealed a large number of peptides (total 309) but with <20% shared by the two collection methods. There was also a marked difference between venoms obtained by venom gland dissection from different ant colonies. These findings demonstrate the rich composition and variability of P. clavata venom.

Pub.: 25 Jan '17, Pinned: 27 Jul '17

Jellyfish venomics and venom gland transcriptomics analysis of Stomolophus meleagris to reveal the toxins associated with sting.

Abstract: Jellyfish Stomolophus meleagris is a very dangerous animal because of its strong toxicity. However, the composition of the venom is still unclear. Both proteomics and transcriptomics approaches were applied in present study to investigate the major components and their possible relationships to the sting. The proteomics of the venom from S. meleagris was conducted by tryptic digestion of the crude venom followed by RP-HPLC separation and MS/MS analysis of the tryptic peptides. The venom gland transcriptome was analyzed using a high-throughput Illumina sequencing platform HiSeq 2000 with de novo assembly. A total of 218 toxins were identified including C-type lectin, phospholipase A₂ (PLA₂), potassium channel inhibitor, protease inhibitor, metalloprotease, hemolysin and other toxins, most of which should be responsible for the sting. Among them, serine protease inhibitor, PLA₂, potassium channel inhibitor and metalloprotease are predominant, representing 28.44%, 21.56%, 16.06% and 15.14% of the identified venom proteins, respectively. Overall, our combined proteomics and transcriptomics approach provides a systematic overview of the toxins in the venom of jellyfish S. meleagris and it will be significant to understand the mechanism of the sting.Jellyfish Stomolophus meleagris is a very dangerous animal because of its strong toxicity. It often bloomed in the coast of China in recent years and caused thousands of people stung and even deaths every year. However, the components which caused sting are still unknown yet. In addition, no study about the venomics of jellyfish S. meleagris has been reported. In the present study, both proteomics and transcriptomics approaches were applied to investigate the major components related to the sting. The result showed that major component included C-type lectin, phospholipase A₂, potassium channel inhibitor, protease inhibitor, metalloprotease, hemolysin and other toxins, which should be responsible for the effect of sting. This is the first research about the venomics of jellyfish S. meleagris. It will be significant to understand the mechanism of the biological effects and helpful to develop ways to deal with the sting.

Pub.: 22 Apr '14, Pinned: 27 Jul '17

Combined venomics, venom gland transcriptomics, bioactivities, and antivenomics of two Bothrops jararaca populations from geographic isolated regions within the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest.

Abstract: Bothrops jararaca is a slender and semi-arboreal medically relevant pit viper species endemic to tropical and subtropical forests in southern Brazil, Paraguay, and northern Argentina (Misiones). Within its geographic range, it is often abundant and is an important cause of snakebite. Although no subspecies are currently recognized, geographic analyses have revealed the existence of two well-supported B. jararaca clades that diverged during the Pliocene ~3.8Mya and currently display a southeastern (SE) and a southern (S) Atlantic rainforest (Mata Atlântica) distribution. The spectrum, geographic variability, and ontogenetic changes of the venom proteomes of snakes from these two B. jararaca phylogroups were investigated applying a combined venom gland transcriptomic and venomic analysis. Comparisons of the venom proteomes and transcriptomes of B. jararaca from the SE and S geographic regions revealed notable interpopulational variability that may be due to the different levels of population-specific transcriptional regulation, including, in the case of the southern population, a marked ontogenetic venom compositional change involving the upregulation of the myotoxic PLA2 homolog, bothropstoxin-I. This population-specific marker can be used to estimate the proportion of venom from the southern population present in the B. jararaca venom pool used for the Brazilian soro antibotrópico (SAB) antivenom production. On the other hand, the southeastern population-specific D49-PLA2 molecules, BinTX-I and BinTX-II, lend support to the notion that the mainland ancestor of Bothrops insularis was originated within the same population that gave rise to the current SE B. jararaca phylogroup, and that this insular species endemic to Queimada Grande Island (Brazil) expresses a pedomorphic venom phenotype. Mirroring their compositional divergence, the two geographic B. jararaca venom pools showed distinct bioactivity profiles. However, the SAB antivenom manufactured in Vital Brazil Institute neutralized the lethal effect of both venoms to a similar extent. In addition, immobilized SAB antivenom immunocaptured most of the venom components of the venoms of both B. jararaca populations, but did not show immunoreactivity against vasoactive peptides. The Costa Rican bothropic-crotalic-lachesic (BCL) antivenom showed the same lack of reactivity against vasoactive peptides but, in addition, was less efficient immunocapturing PI- and PIII-SVMPs from the SE venom, and bothropstoxin-I, a CRISP molecule, and a D49-PLA2 from the venom of the southern B. jararaca phylogroup. The remarkable paraspecificity exhibited by the Brazilian and the Costa Rican antivenoms indicates large immunoreactive epitope conservation across the natural history of Bothrops, a genus that has its roots in the middle Miocene. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Omics Evolutionary Ecolog.

Pub.: 15 May '15, Pinned: 27 Jul '17

From Mollusks to Medicine: A Venomics Approach for the Discovery and Characterization of Therapeutics from Terebridae Peptide Toxins.

Abstract: Animal venoms comprise a diversity of peptide toxins that manipulate molecular targets such as ion channels and receptors, making venom peptides attractive candidates for the development of therapeutics to benefit human health. However, identifying bioactive venom peptides remains a significant challenge. In this review we describe our particular venomics strategy for the discovery, characterization, and optimization of Terebridae venom peptides, teretoxins. Our strategy reflects the scientific path from mollusks to medicine in an integrative sequential approach with the following steps: (1) delimitation of venomous Terebridae lineages through taxonomic and phylogenetic analyses; (2) identification and classification of putative teretoxins through omics methodologies, including genomics, transcriptomics, and proteomics; (3) chemical and recombinant synthesis of promising peptide toxins; (4) structural characterization through experimental and computational methods; (5) determination of teretoxin bioactivity and molecular function through biological assays and computational modeling; (6) optimization of peptide toxin affinity and selectivity to molecular target; and (7) development of strategies for effective delivery of venom peptide therapeutics. While our research focuses on terebrids, the venomics approach outlined here can be applied to the discovery and characterization of peptide toxins from any venomous taxa.

Pub.: 23 Apr '16, Pinned: 27 Jul '17