The blood of Komodo dragons has potent antimicrobial properties, which may be valuable in the fight against antibiotic resistance. This is what Barney Bishop, Monique van Hoek, and their colleagues at the College of Science at George Mason University have found.
Komodo Dragons, The World's Largest Lizards
Known in the scientific world as the Varanus komodoensis, the world's largest lizards can be found in their natural habitat in the islands of Indonesia. They typically grow up to 3 meters (9.8 feet) in length and weigh up to 70 kilograms (154 pounds).
Previous studies have traced at least 57 different bacterial species in the saliva of Komodo dragons, which they use in hunting for prey that can be as large as a buffalo. Where they get these bacteria has yet to be discovered, although some experts say that the Komodo dragons contracted these from drinking in sewage-polluted bodies of water in the area.
Amazingly, despite the alarming levels of bacteria in their mouths, Komodo dragons appear to be unscathed by the deadly bugs.
Cationic Antimicrobial Peptides
The research team from George Mason University did a study on Komodo dragons to see if they could detect cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs), which are protein fragments produced by almost all of the living creatures and function as part of the body's natural immune system. In 2015, scientists found CAMPs 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," Van Hoek explained.
Using their own lab-developed technique, the researchers were able to identify 48 possible CAMPs in Komodo dragon blood samples. Out of 48, 47 of the peptides were reportedly from histone proteins, which have strong antimicrobial properties.
After synthesizing eight of the peptides and testing them against two notoriously stubborn bacteria — Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA — their findings show that seven excellently killed both superbugs in lab-grown cultures; the other one only worked against P. aeruginosa.
The result of the study is published in the Journal of Proteome Research.
Antibiotic Resistance In the United States
Antibiotics have been so widely used to treat all sorts of illnesses and infections since the 1940s, that today, a disturbing number of disease-causing organisms have adapted and grown resistant to them.
In the United States alone, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that at least 2 million people become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria per year, with at least 23,000 Americans dying as a direct result of the infections.
Clostridium difficile (CDIFF), Carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and drug-resistant campylobacter are some bacteria included in the 18 drug-resistant threats to the country released by the CDC in 2013.