Germ-Killing Molecules in Alligator Blood May Lead to Next-Generation Antibiotics
Scientists have been scrambling for a new type of antimicrobial treatment ever since the early 1990's, when it was first revealed that certain diseases could become resistant to antibiotics. Now, a new study indicates that germ-killing molecules in the blood of alligators may be able to combat so-called "superbugs" in humans.
As was discovered over two decades ago, bacteria and other harmful microbes have the ability to mutate and change in order to become resistant to antibiotics through a process of natural selection. When an antibiotic treats a disease, it kills the sensitive microbes and leaves the stronger ones, which then multiply and proliferate. Nearly every disease that is treatable with antibiotics has developed new strains that are immune to our treatments.
In their efforts to combat this rising trend of antibiotic-resistant "superbugs," scientists have been attempting to find an alternative to antibiotics. Alligators, strangely enough, were an ideal animal to study, simply because they have extremely effective immune systems. "They inflict wounds on each other from which they frequently recover without complications from infection despite the fact that the environments in which they live are less than sterile," co-author Barney Bishop told New Scientist.
In the course of their study, they found that the key to the alligators' defense were germ-killing peptides that break down a type of lipid. They have essentially the same effects as antibiotics, but without any problems with resistance.
Although no new antibiotics have been developed yet, the researchers have developed a new strategy for isolating the peptides from the alligators' immune systems. As the molecules are positively charged, they were able to develop nanoparticles that electrostatically "picked" them from the blood. They isolated 45 peptides, which were found to be able to destroy common human afflictions such as E.coli and staph.
"Because of the novelty of the sequences," said Guangshun Wang of the University of Nebraska Medical Center, "these peptides provide new templates for developing antimicrobials to combat superbugs."