‘Devils’ milk boost

Univer­sity study finds mar­su­pial car­ries pep­tides that kill deadly bac­te­ria

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Syd­ney

Mother’s milk from the mar­su­pi­als known as Tas­ma­nian devils could help the fight against deadly “su­per­bugs” that re­sist an­tibi­otics, Aus­tralian re­searchers said.

Mother’ s milk from the mar­su­pi­als known as Tas­ma­nian devils could help the global fight against in­creas­ingly deadly “su­per­bugs” which re­sist an­tibi­otics, Aus­tralian re­searchers said on Tues­day.

Su­per­bugs are bac­te­ria which can­not be treated by cur­rent an­tibi­otics and other drugs, with a re­cent Bri­tish study say­ing they could kill up to 10 mil­lion peo­ple glob­ally by 2050.

Sci­en­tists at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney found that pep­tides in the mar­su­pial’s milk killed re­sis­tant bac­te­ria, in­clud­ing me­thi­cillin-re­sis­tant golden staph bac­te­ria and en­te­ro­coc­cus that is re­sis­tant to the pow­er­ful an­tibi­otic van­comycin.

The re­searchers turned to mar­su­pi­als like the devil — which carry their young in a pouch after birth to com­plete their de­vel­op­ment— be­cause of their bi­ol­ogy.

The un­der­de­vel­oped young have an im­ma­ture im­mune sys­tem when they are born, yet sur­vive growth in their mother’s bac­te­ri­afilled pouch.

“We think this has led to an ex­pan­sion of th­ese pep­tides in mar­su­pi­als,” Univer­sity of Syd­ney PhD can­di­date Emma Peel, who worked on the re­search pub­lished in the Na­ture jour­nal Sci­en­tific Re­ports, told AFP.

“Mar­su­pi­als have more pep­tides than other mam­mals. In the devil we found six, whereas hu­mans have only one of this type of pep­tide.

“Other re­search in other mar­su­pi­als has shown that tam­mar wal­la­bies have eight of th­ese pep­tides and opos­sums have 12,” said Peel, adding that stud­ies into koala’s milk had now started.

The sci­en­tists ar­ti­fi­cially cre­ated the an­timi­cro­bial pep­tides, called cathe­li­cidins, after ex­tract­ing the se­quence from the devil’s genome, and found they “killed the re­sis­tant bac­te­ria ... and other bac­te­ria”.

They are hope­ful mar­su­pial pep­tides could even­tu­ally be used to de­velop new an­tibi­otics for hu­mans to aid the bat­tle against su­per­bugs.

“One of the most dif­fi­cult things in today’s world is to try and find new an­tibi­otics for drug-re­sis­tant strains of bac­te­ria,” the re­search man­ager of the univer­sity’s Aus­tralasian Wildlife Ge­nomics Group, Carolyn Hogg, told AFP.

“Most of the other pre­vi­ous an­tibi­otics have come from plants, moulds and other work that’s been around for close to a 100 years, so it’s time to start look­ing else­where.”

World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion di­rec­tor-gen­eral Mar­garet Chan warned last month some sci­en­tists were de­scrib­ing the im­pact of su­per­bugs as a “slow-mo­tion tsunami” and the sit­u­a­tion was “bad and get­ting worse”.


Two Tas­ma­nian devils ex­plore their en­clo­sure at Devil Ark in the Bar­ring­ton Tops area of Aus­tralia’s New South Wales.

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