Milk from Tasmanian devils appears to be a promising weapon against antibiotic-tolerant superbugs, according to a new study in the journal Scientific Reports.
The marsupial’s milk includes special peptides that seem to be capable of tackling difficult-to-treat infections like MRSA. The study team said these peptides may have arisen because they help young Tasmanian devils grow stronger.
Experts have said marsupials are good candidates to study for discovering new antibiotic because their babies have to grow up in fairly dirty surroundings. Tasmanian devil females give birth after just a few weeks of being pregnant. The tiny offspring then spend the subsequent four months growing in their mother’s pouch.
Finding Infection-Fighting Compounds
In the study, researchers scanned the devil’s genome to locate and replicate the infection-fighting compounds, known as cathelicidins. The team was able to discover six essential peptides, and said they seemed to be very similar to peptides in the milk of other marsupials, meaning these animals are worthy of investigating as well.
“Tammar wallabies have eight of these peptides and opossums have 12,” said Emma Peel, an adjunct professor at the Sydney University in Australia. She added that studies into koala milk had already begun.
The study team replicated the six unique peptides they discovered and tested them on 25 kinds of bacteria and six kinds of fungi.
One of the man-made peptides – Saha-CATH5 – seemed to be especially good at killing the superbug MRSA. MRSA is commonly found on the skin and in the mouth. It can become deadly if it enters the body through an open wound.
The artificial peptide also seemed to kill a different resistant bug, known as Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus, along with fungi, known as Candida, which are commonly included in skin infections.
Experts have said science needs to discover new medications to fight treatment-resistant infections. The study team said they are currently checking into new treatments based on the devil peptides.
“We need to do this hunting in unusual places for new antibiotics,” Richard Stabler, a bacteria expert at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine told BBC News in reaction to the study. “People are beginning to explore and find new molecules.”
Image credit: Thinkstock
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