OCT 31, 2016 8:44 AM PDT

Milking the Devil For New Antibiotics

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
New antibiotics against superbugs could be coming from a very unlikely source, say scientists. As it turns out, the quest for new drugs has taken scientists to the wild fields of Australia, where the Tasmanian devils dwell. The milk of the devil, so to speak, is purported to hold powerful peptides that fight against staph and other bacteria.

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs might be killed with devil's milk | Image: pixabay.com
Scientists got interested in the Tasmanian devil’s milk following the observation that the marsupial’s pouch is filled with bacteria.
 
"Marsupials give birth to highly underdeveloped young after a very short gestation period of only up to 30 days," said Emma Peel, who is the first author of the study, published in the journal Scientific Reports. "After birth, the young continues to develop in the mother's pouch, which contains a diverse range of bacteria, some of which could be harmful," Peel said. "Given [that] the young does not have a fully functioning immune system, this led us to question how it survives within a 'dirty' pouch."
 
The questions led the team to hone in on the devil’s milk. After resolving the milk into unique components, the team found that, indeed, one class of peptides has natural but powerful antimicrobial properties. This class of peptides is known as cathelicidins, of which Tasmanian devils have six whereas humans only have one.
 
"Tasmanian devil peptides highlight the potential of marsupials to provide new alternatives to antibiotics in the future," Peel said. "Sequencing the genomes of more marsupials will allow us to identify and explore the antibacterial activity of antimicrobial peptides in other marsupials."
In lab tests, the devil’s milk proved effective against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Enterococci bacteria.

"As yet, we haven't explored peptide functions other than killing bacteria, but perhaps Tasmanian devil peptides could be a superfood in the future," Peel said.
 
The promising results prompted scientists to look into other members of the marsupial family, such as koalas and wallabies, to see if their milk also holds potent antibiotic potential too. According to researchers, the milk of opossums may contain as much as 12 different cathelicidins. However, even with these potential new sources of antibiotics, researchers are concerned about getting enough of the milk or compounds in the milk for clinical trials.

Of note, superbugs are bacteria that have evolved to become resistant to all of the antibiotics that doctors have in their arsenal. This makes them highly dangerous, as simple infections could turn deadly, fast. So deadly, in fact, that some experts are likening the impact of these superbugs to climate change.

If we don’t do anything, scientists estimate the economic cost would be $100 trillion by 2050. On the population scale, superbugs could dwindle the numbers by killing one person every 3 seconds.

Additional sources: CNN, Live Science
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
You May Also Like
NOV 03, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
"Hello? It's Me, the Coronavirus."
NOV 03, 2020
"Hello? It's Me, the Coronavirus."
Researchers at MIT have discovered an unlikely way of discerning those with COVID-19 from healthy individuals — si ...
DEC 15, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Who Should Get the COVID Vaccine First?
DEC 15, 2020
Who Should Get the COVID Vaccine First?
Drug developers’ frantic hunt for vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 has finally begun to bear fruit, with several vaccin ...
DEC 22, 2020
Cardiology
A New 3D Imaging Method for Atherosclerosis Analysis in Mice
DEC 22, 2020
A New 3D Imaging Method for Atherosclerosis Analysis in Mice
Imaging in research may not sound glamorous, but how else would news stories get those cool looking science photos for t ...
DEC 26, 2020
Clinical & Molecular DX
Navigating the Genomic Landscape of Cancer in Asians
DEC 26, 2020
Navigating the Genomic Landscape of Cancer in Asians
Precision medicine — a clinical paradigm that tailors treatments specifically to patients based on their genetic a ...
FEB 02, 2021
Immunology
Pumping the Brakes on Stomach Cancer Progression
FEB 02, 2021
Pumping the Brakes on Stomach Cancer Progression
By the time stomach cancer is diagnosed, it’s often bad news for patients. The disease often presents with relativ ...
FEB 23, 2021
Genetics & Genomics
New Insight Into Genetic Basis of IBD From African-American Patients
FEB 23, 2021
New Insight Into Genetic Basis of IBD From African-American Patients
The small variations in the genome that lead to differences in biology, including risk for diseases, can't be assumed to ...
Loading Comments...