Scientists Discover Potential New Antibiotic in — Believe It or Not — Dragon’s Blood
A fairytale ending in the fight against superbugs?
It sounds like the stuff of myths, but dragon’s blood may have real life-saving powers. While Albus Dumbledore, is believed to be the first to have identified 12 uses of dragon’s blood in the wizarding world, a belief in its healing properties is as old as storytelling itself.
And now, it looks like the facts are following fiction.
Scientists from George Mason University in Virginia believe they have discovered a substance in the blood of a Komodo dragon with antibiotic properties that can be used to treat infected wounds.
The world’s largest lizard, Komodo dragons weigh up to 300 pounds (136 kilograms) and can reach 10 feet (3 metres) in length when fully grown. As carnivorous predators, they will eat “almost anything,” according to National Geographic, and contain more than 50 forms of bacteria in their saliva, making their bites highly infectious. Once bitten, their prey usually dies of blood poisoning within 24 hours, allowing the dragons to follow the weakened creature until it dies, and eventually devour the corpse.
But the presence of this bacteria provided the clue to the antibiotic properties of the lizard’s blood. While its saliva contains a host of bacteria, these bacteria do not infect the Komodo dragon itself.
Monique L. Van Hoek and Barney M. Bishop, lead authors on the study, research the properties of reptiles like lizards and crocodiles because of their remarkable resilience against infection.
According to the New York Times, the team of scientists were able to extract four tablespoons of blood from a Komodo dragon in a Florida zoo, and isolate a germ-killing protein known as a cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs).
The findings were published in the journal, npj Biofilms and Microbiomes and has garnered significant attention.
However magical it sounds, harvesting vasts amount of dragon blood to fight bacteria is not a promising or ethical prospect. Although they have survived in the harsh climates of Indonesia Lesser Sunda islands for millions of years, Komodo dragons are now at high risk of extinction.
“No dragons were harmed in this process, and we won’t be creating dragon farms to bleed them,” Dr. Bishop said. Instead, the scientists attempted to replicate the sample and gave the new chemical a suitable sci-fi name: DRGN-1.
DRGN-1 was found to heal infected wounds in mice, suggesting its anti-bacterial properties could be used more widely.
The world faces an urgent need for new forms of antibiotic in the face of increasing antimicrobial resistance. In February, the World Health Organization published a “Most Wanted List” of “superbugs” threatening global health as they become more and more resistant to existing antibiotics.
DRGN-1 is still in its early stages of research, but it’s a promising discovery in the fight to develop new medicines to tackle the mounting threat of global pandemics.