Protein fragments in the blood of Komodo dragons have antimicrobial properties that help them resist toxic bacteria, and they could be used to develop new drugs to counter antibiotic resistance, researchers have found.
The Komodo dragon is the world's largest lizard, growing up to 3 metres (9.8 feet) in length and weighing up to 70 kilograms (154 lbs). It lives on five small islands in Indonesia, where its massive size and sharp teeth enable it to feast on prey as large as water buffalo – but there's another, less obvious reason why you definitely don't want to get bitten by one.
Previous research has found that the mouths of Komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) contain up to 57 kinds of dangerous bacteria.Well, they do eat a lot of rotten meat, since their method of killing big prey involves biting it, and letting the bacteria (and the venom they have) give the prey a bad infection. Given such a method of feeding, it would be important to be relatively immune to infection by the bacteria in your prey.
It's not entirely clear, where this bacteria come from. More recently, scientists have suggested that it stems from Komodo dragons drinking from sewage-contaminated water sources.
Now researchers have figured out how these lizards became resistant to having such deadly bugs in their mouths.Gators aren't particularly closely related to the dragons, each representing very different branches of the reptilian lines. How far does this spread?
A team from George Mason University took blood from Komodo dragons, and analysed it to see if they could find traces of what's called cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs).
These protein fragments are produced by nearly all living creatures, and work as an essential part of our innate immune system. Previous research by the team in 2015 had identified these peptides in alligator blood.
"It's that part of your immune system that keeps you alive in the two or three weeks before you can make antibodies to a bacterial infection," biochemist Monique van Hoek said at the time.So this is not really novel to Komodo Dragons, although it may well be better developed in some reptiles.
"It's part of your generalised immune response to the world."
I suspect Komodo Dragons make very poor experimental test animals. Even if a reptile is useful in research, perhaps a less obnoxious species could be used.
The team synthesised eight of these peptides, and tested them against two particularly nasty kinds of bacteria that have been labelled 'superbugs': Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus, aka MRSA.
Of the eight synthesised peptides, seven were effective at killing both bacteria in lab-grown cultures, while one was only effective against P. aeruginosa.
Linked at Pirate's Cove in the weekly "Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup" and links. Wombat-socho has "Rule 5 Sunday: Massachusetts Girl" ready at The Other McCain.