March 3, 2017
In a world where antibiotics are often overprescribed, antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing problems of our times. Traditional antimicrobial drugs aren’t working as successfully as they used to—and the rise of “superbugs” could potentially turn treatable infections into life-threatening illnesses. Now, one group of researchers is proposing that the blood of dragons could be used to annihilate superbugs once and for all.
Yes, we mean that literally. According to a team from George Mason University, the devil-toothed Komodo dragon has a particular suite of chemical compounds in its blood that has the power to destroy a wide range of bacteria.
CAMPS—or cationic antimicrobial peptides—are common among living creatures (including humans). Komodo dragons stand out because they have 48, with 47 of them being powerfully antimicrobial. The team was able to isolate these CAMPs in a laboratory using electrically-charged hydrogels to suck them out of the dragons’ blood samples.
Using their own versions of eight of these CAMPs, they paired them up against “superbugs” like MRSA to see if they had any effect. Ultimately, all eight of the bugs were able to kill Pseudomona aeruginosa, and seven of them were able to tackle MRSA as well. The majority of conventional antibiotic drugs were not successful.
The researchers note that these powerful peptides are what allow Komodo dragons to contain dangerous bacteria in their mouths. The chemical compounds in their blood protect them from ever being properly infected and to co-exist with lethal bacteria.
“The role that CAMPs play in the innate immunity of the Komodo dragon is potentially very informative, and the newly identified Komodo dragon CAMPs may lend themselves to the development of new antimicrobial therapeutics,” the group notes.
Of course, there is plenty of testing ahead before these CAMPs will be tested in human trials, but the idea has scientists very excited. There’s a chance that we could win the war against superbugs, after all.