Although insects lack the basic entities of the vertebrate immune system, such as lymphocytes and immunoglobulins, they have developed alternative defence mechanisms against infections. Different types of peptide factors, exhibiting bactericidal activity, have been detected in some insect species. These humoral factors are induced upon infection. The present report describes the discovery of the apidaecins, isolated from lymph fluid of the honeybee (Apis mellifera). The apidaecins represent a new family of inducible peptide antibiotics with the following basic structure: GNNRP(V/I)YIPQPRPPHPR(L/I). These heat-stable, non-helical peptides are active against a wide range of plant-associated bacteria and some human pathogens, through a bacteriostatic rather than a lytic process. Chemically synthesized apidaecins display the same bactericidal activity as their natural counterparts. While only active antibacterial peptides are detectable in adult honeybee lymph, bee larvae contain considerable amounts of inactive precursor molecules.