Antibiotic resistance is one of the most pressing problems of our times. Traditional antimicrobial drugs aren’t working the way they used to, and the rise of “superbugs” could bring about the post-antibiotic age, where easily treatable infections suddenly become life-threatening incurable illnesses.
There have been a slew of new discoveries recently that have revealed brand new ways to turn the tide, but the latest revelation at the hands of a team from George Mason University is a particularly unusual sounding one. As it turns out, we could use the blood of dragons to annihilate superbugs.
No, this isn’t an analogy or a plot line from Game of Thrones. The devil-toothed Komodo dragon – the devious beast from Indonesia – has a particular suite of chemical compounds in its blood that’s pure anathema to a wide range of bacteria.
They’re known as CAMPs – cationic antimicrobial peptides – and although plenty of living creatures (including humans) have versions of these, Komodo dragons have 48, with 47 of them being powerfully antimicrobial. The team managed to cleverly isolate these CAMPs in a laboratory by using electrically-charged hydrogels – strange, aerated substances – to suck them out of the dragons’ blood samples.
Synthesizing their own versions of eight of these CAMPs, they put them up against two strains of lab-grown “superbugs,” MRSA and Pseudomona aeruginosa, to see if they had any effect. Remarkably, all eight were able to kill the latter, whereas seven of them destroyed all trace of both, doing something that plenty of conventional antibiotic drugs couldn’t.
Explaining the origin of antibiotic resistance. TED-Ed via YouTube
Writing in the Journal of Proteome Research, the researchers write that these powerful CAMPs explain why Komodo dragons are able to contain such a dense, biodiverse population of incredibly dangerous bacteria in their mouths. Although it’s not clear where all these bacteria originally came from, the chemical compounds in their blood ensures that they’ll never be properly infected.
In fact, it was this ability to co-exist with such lethal bacteria that piqued the interest of the researchers in the first place.
“Komodo dragon serum has been demonstrated to have in vitro antibacterial properties,” they note. “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.”
It’ll be awhile before these CAMPs are tested in human trials, but the idea that we’re effectively using dragon’s blood, or plasma, to fight against resurgent diseases is genuinely quite thrilling. Alongside Hulk-like drugs that physically rip bacteria apart, there’s a chance that, with the help of these legendary lizards, we may win this war yet.