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Action star Keanu Reeves is associated with defeating new villain: Fungus

Keanu Reeves at the premiere of “John Wick: Chapter 4" in London on Monday. (Tolga Akmen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
3 min

Keanu Reeves is known for fighting and defeating villains in action movies, including “The Matrix” and “John Wick.” Now, his name is associated with stopping another adversary: fungus.

German scientists have discovered compounds that kill harmful fungi in plants and humans. In honor of Reeves’s combat skills, they named the antimicrobials “keanumycins,” according to Sebastian Götze, a co-author of the German study.

“We were just basically blown away by the high activity,” Götze said. “That’s why we basically said, ‘Yeah, it’s like an assassin, a hit man or something, killing a couple of different fungi very effectively.’”

During a Reddit question-and-answer session Saturday, Reeves shared his gratitude for the recognition.

“They should’ve called it John Wick … but that’s pretty cool … and surreal for me,” Reeves wrote. “But thanks, scientist people! Good luck, and thank you for helping us.”

Keanumycins A, B and C are produced from pseudomonas, bacteria commonly found in soil and water, according to the scientists’ study in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. The compounds are useful in knocking down infections. Keanumycins fight Candida albicans, a fungus that can create yeast infections in people, according to the German research institution’s news release.

The scientists say keanumycins could be used in medicines. Fungi can become resistant to frequently used antifungals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which leaves medical professionals on the lookout for new remedies.

“We have an antibiotic crisis,” Götze said. “There are a lot of bacteria at the moment, especially in hospitals, who are largely resistant against different antibiotics, and the same is also true for fungi. Not many new antibiotics, at the moment, are being developed, and the same also goes for antifungals.”

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Keanumycins also fight Botrytis cinerea, a fungus that produces mold on plants and more than 200 types of food, including grapes and strawberries, according to the news release. B. cinerea damages crops and spurs an annual economic loss of more than $10 billion worldwide, according to a 2018 study by Food Quality and Safety.

Because the antimicrobials named after Reeves are harmless to plants and humans, they could replace chemical pesticides, according to the researchers.

This past summer, Götze said, he was brainstorming ideas for the compounds’ name with colleagues when the conversation shifted to movies. They were discussing their excitement for “John Wick: Chapter 4,” which will be released this month, when Götze said he got the idea for the scientific homage to Reeves.

Wick and other Reeves characters are experienced in beating persistent enemies. In 1994, Reeves played a police officer who helped safely detonate a bomb in “Speed.” His fame grew in 1999 when he starred as Neo in “The Matrix,” in which he defeated Agent Smith, villain of a simulated reality. The 58-year-old has since starred in the Matrix sequels and as a hit man in the John Wick franchise.

While Götze said compounds are typically named after the species they were discovered from, he believes those guidelines are stale. Sometimes scientists give compounds a name to honor their spouses, but Götze said keanumycins are the first compounds he’s aware of named after an actor. Götze said he doesn’t watch many superhero movies, so Reeves became the obvious choice.

If his predictions prove true, Götze said, keanumycins could vanquish organisms more harmful than any foes Reeves fights in his roles.

“I mean, I haven’t seen ‘John Wick 4,’ and I heard that he’s going to kill a lot of people,” Götze said. “If you count it, there’s probably more fungal single cells in one sick human being.”