Komodo Dragon Blood!

The Economist covers some important new research out of George Mason University on the search for new antibiotics:

MYTHOLOGY is rich with tales of dragons and the magical properties their innards possess. One of the most valuable bits was their blood. Supposedly capable of curing respiratory and digestive disorders, it was widely sought. A new study has provided a factual twist on these fictional medicines. Barney Bishop and Monique van Hoek, at George Mason University in Virginia, report in The Journal of Proteome Research that the blood of the Komodo dragon, the largest living lizard on the planet, is loaded with compounds that could be used as antibiotics.

Komodo dragons, which are native to parts of Indonesia, ambush large animals like water buffalo and deer with a bite to the throat. If their prey does not fall immediately, the dragons rarely continue the fight. Instead, they back away and let the mix of mild venom and dozens of pathogenic bacteria found in their saliva finish the job. They track their prey until it succumbs, whereupon they can feast without a struggle. Intriguingly, though, Komodo dragons appear to be resistant to bites inflicted by other dragons.

Most animals—not just Komodo dragons—carry simple proteins known as antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) as general-purpose weapons against infection. But if the AMPs of Komodo dragons are potent enough to let them shrug off otherwise-fatal bites from their fellow animals, they are probably especially robust. And that could make them a promising source of chemicals upon which to base new antibiotics.


From Sciencealert.com (HT Instapundit):

A team from George Mason University took blood from Komodo dragons, and analysed it to see if they could find traces of what's called cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs).

These protein fragments are produced by nearly all living creatures, and work as an essential part of our innate immune system. Previous research by the team in 2015 had identified these peptides in alligator blood.

"It's that part of your immune system that keeps you alive in the two or three weeks before you can make antibodies to a bacterial infection," biochemist Monique van Hoek said at the time.

"It's part of your generalised immune response to the world."

With a technique they developed in the lab, negatively charged nanoparticles made from hydrogel were used to capture peptides in the blood samples, and subsequent analysis identified 48 potential CAMPs.

Of the 48 identified, 47 of the peptides were derived from histone proteins, which are known to have antimicrobial properties.

The team synthesised eight of these peptides, and tested them against two particularly nasty kinds of bacteria that have been labelled 'superbugs': Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus, aka MRSA.

Of the eight synthesised peptides, seven were effective at killing both bacteria in lab-grown cultures, while one was only effective against P. aeruginosa.

LOL big time!!! When I was a fellow at NIH, one of the branch chiefs who was sharing lab space with us while his lab was being renovated identified a similar set of peptides in the frogs he was working with. Everyone began to get really excited as this seemed to point the way to a whole new approach to anti-infective therapy. He left NIH and founded a company to capitalize on the discovery. The drug never worked and the scientist moved back into academia.

In short, this is NOT an exciting new discovery.

Well frogs are not dragons, Einstein. What did you invent, except some SBIR grant?

"Of the eight synthesized peptides, seven were effective at killing both bacteria in lab-grown cultures"

I'd say that is exciting. did your friend have similar luck?

Yes, he had the same good luck in vitro. Lots of compounds display excellent activity in Petri dishes against all kinds of bad bacteria. However, translating this to use in humans is the difficult part. Antibiotic therapies fail for two reasons: lack of bioavailability when given to humans or unexpected toxiciity. The small company partnered with Glaxo to develop the compound for the treatment of diabetic skin ulcers. However, the drug never was approved. It's still around and a couple of small biotech companies are still doing clinical work with it. It's formulated into a skin cream and only targeting skin infections.

I happen to know that goannas, close relatives of the komodo dragon, can rise from the dead three days after being chewed on by a German Shepard. This leads me to suspect that giving goanna blood to dead or almost dead people will cause them to revive like when Gandalf gave Harry Potter tribble blood in the movie Tron.

If it wasn't for the FDA, that is.

The FDA can't prevent me to treat the dead as I wish. I shall create life! I am a new Prometheus and I shall create a new Adam.

The book's version is much better. Special effects are not yet at a point they can equal the magic of J. R. R. Rowling's prose.

I monitor lizards presents: "A New Interpretation of the Resurrection"

Just yesterday my toddler bit my 3-year-old, and I was lamenting the lack of antimicrobial properties in toddler saliva as I made sure that my wife had remembered to use an antiseptic on the injury. Perhaps one day we can create children with an appropriate mix of canine and komodo DNA, who can joyfully and freely bite one another.

Well there is a clear path to that bright future. You need to imitate the komodo dragon and stop brushing the toddler's teeth. I have been doing that for years. Admittedly the wife was not very supportive, but perhaps you will have better luck. After all, Science!

So, has any of these rainforest-biology-will-cure-us theories of the last few decades gone anywhere? Does anyone know of one that is being usefully applied today?

American have been looting Brazil's biodiversity for years and years.

http://www.rain-tree.com/book2.htm#.WLoDvDVEqPU "The Healing Power of Rainforest Herbs"

In particular, http://www.rain-tree.com/quinine.htm#.WLoDNzVEqPU

"QUININE (Cinchona officinalis)"

"Main Actions: treats malaria,relieves pain, kills parasites,kills bacteria,reduces fever,kills fungi,kills germs,kills insects"

Amylin Pharmaceuticals launched a GLP-1 agonist for the treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Melitus in 2005. This drug, exenatide, is a synthetic version of a hormone found in the saliva of Gila monster lizards. (op cit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exenatide)

Thank you.

My congratulations to the team and to the Tabarrok family.

Alex trolls himself.

No one could be this credulous.

The blood of an economist will cure depression(s).

The first time I read about this was in Shnayerson's 2003 work on drug resistant bacteria, "The Killers Within." Everything about this article is admirable, but it's not thrilling to read in 2017 that new research is pointing to the potential of this new approach.

How long has it been believed that the saliva of the Komodo Dragon is weaponized? Centuries. (That is, prior to their discovery by Europeans). What has been in dispute is what is involved in the weapon. Bacteria have been invoked, but the supporting evidence is questionable and the refuting evidence not definitive. Anticoagulants and toxins (the dragon has two glands thought to excrete these materials) have also been identified. The blurb from GMU that their saliva contains "dozens of pathogenic bacteria" [quibble - should be "bacterial species"] makes their mouths no "dirtier" (no more pathogenic) than ours. I don't know what the experts currently believe regarding this question. What I wonder is if there is any more reason to expect a miracle drug from study of this species' microbiome & biochemistry than any others.

For those seeking to investigate the medicinal qualities of goanna blood, my advice is don't be the person who collects the blood.

Also, don't be the person who watches the person who collects goanna blood, as they are even more likely to be injured.

Standing perfectly may seem a good way to avoid the attention of an animal with poor eyesight, but that is exactly what you don't want to do, as it may mistake you for a tree and attempt to climb up up you. As they can be two meters long and climb with their claws it can be quite unpleasant. But at least you won't be envenomated. If they have venom that is. We're not sure. There's an old bush saying that a goanna bite never heals, but that may be just because people kept dying before it had a chance to.

Comments for this post are closed