Wasps get their fair share of bad press. They have painful stingers, and they're not as useful (or cute) to us as bees. However, their time to step in the spotlight may be just around the corner: Their venom has been shown to attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.
The cancer-targeting toxin in the wasp is called MP1 (Polybia-MP1) and until now, how it selectively eliminates cancer cells was unknown. According to new research, it exploits the atypical arrangement of fats, or lipids, in cancer cell membranes. Their abnormal distribution creates weak points where the toxin can interact with the lipids, which ultimately pokes gaping holes in the membrane. These are sufficiently large for essential molecules to start leaking out, like proteins, which the cell cannot function without.
The wasp responsible for producing this toxin is the Polybia paulista. The toxin has so far been tested on model membranes and examined using a broad range of imaging techniques.