It’s not that Keanu Reeves is particularly deadly to fungal infections, but his characters like John Wick are so deadly in general that medical researchers decided it was a proper name for a new anti-fungal treatment. New, effective anti-fungal treatments are also rare, so it’s fitting to name it after such a rare gem like Reeves, whose skill at 3-Gun Shooting makes his movies even more exciting.
Fungal infections have become a priority for military researchers in recent years, as combat-related invasive fungal wound infections have become more and more common as complications following explosive blast injuries. Mold infections in Afghanistan have led to above the knee amputations, requiring massive transfusions, and sometimes leading to death.
Current treatment options rely on early detection and diagnosis, surgical removal of infected tissues and aggressive antifungal therapies. It doesn’t help that fungal infections are becoming increasingly resistant to antifungal treatments. Researchers in Germany have isolated compounds found in bacteria, known as lipopeptides, that are effective against fungi in plants and human fungal infections.
“The lipopeptides kill so efficiently that we named them after Keanu Reeves because he, too, is extremely deadly in his roles,” Sebastian Götze, a researcher with Germany’s Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology, said in a statement. Götze is the co-author of the research paper naming the antifungal, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
The newly-discovered lipopeptides have been dubbed keanumycin after the way Keanu Reeves’ gun-toting protagonists dispatch bad guys at an impressive rate. Fungal infections in plants can destroy entire harvests, affecting more than 200 different types of fruit and vegetables, especially strawberries and unripe grapes. So introducing plant fungi to the pesticide version of John Wick would save millions of dollars and, potentially, lives from starvation.
The same pesticides used to combat fungus in crops has also led to treatment-resistant fungal infections in humans. But in those human infections, Keanu works the same way, while being harmless to human cells. Keanumycins could be an environmentally friendly alternative to chemical pesticides while tackling treatment-resistant fungal infections.
These new antimicrobial compounds are naturally produced by the bacteria Pseudomonas, which are typically found in soil and water. Researchers found the compounds when studying Pseudomonas for efficacy against predatory amoebas, which feed on bacteria. Pseudomonas have long been known to be deadly to fungus, but the compound responsible is newly isolated, and could be found elsewhere in nature.
New research begs the question not just where else keanumycin might be found, but also what other kinds of fungi it can eradicate with its special brand of deadly skills.
“We tested the isolated substance against various fungi that infect humans. We found that it strongly inhibits the pathogenic fungus Candida albicans, among others," says Götze.
So yes, the discovery of the bacteria’s anti-fungal abilities means an effective weapon if we ever find ourselves in a scenario like the one playing out in HBO’s “The Last of Us.” Producers of the show might consider a new ending to the series, featuring Keanu Reeves.