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Tasmanian Devil's Milk Can Fight Superbugs

Oct 19, 2016 05:08 AM EDT
Tasmanian Devil Facing Disease Crisis
The Tasmanian devil's milk may possess the cure against superbugs.
(Photo : Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

The famous animal popularized by a cartoon in the '90s is now back in the limelight. Apparently, the Tasmanian devil's milk might just be the solution to the perennial medical problem of superbugs.

Tasmanian devils are often portrayed as the antagonist, but in real life, as it turned out, its milk may do well to mankind by helping in the process of eliminating superbugs. A team of researches from Australia believes that marsupials, including the Tasmanian devils, possess a powerful component in their systems that are essential for the growth of their offspring. This important component may be the key to fighting superbugs.

Marsupials highly depend on their mothers during the early developmental years, getting nourishment from their mother's pouches. They are usually born very early and stay dependent on their mother before turning into their adult and furry form like kangaroos inside their mothers' pouches. But in order to survive inside their mothers' pouches, they needed a continuous dose of immunity boosters that researchers believe are present in their mothers' milk.

Read: Devil's Cure to Cancer? Tasmanian Devil is Evolving to Fight Contagious Form of Disease

Marsupials are bountiful in Australia including sharped-toothed Tasmanian devils. Because of their physical attributes, Tasmanian devils are known for their phenomenal appetite eating anything from small animals like birds, bugs and even consumes bones of their prey.

In a recent study, it was discovered that the Tasmanian devil's milk might be able to fight superbugs or the resilient bacteria that cannot be eliminated by antibiotics. Superbugs have already adapted to certain medications making it immune to most treatments. Reports say that almost 23,000 Americans suffer from superbug infections and die each year.

Experts around the world believe that due to the evolving nature of superbugs, it is important to look for possible solutions even in the most unlikely places. "We need to do this hunting in unusual places for new antibiotics. People are beginning to explore and find new molecules," Dr. Richard Stabler, Associate Professor in Molecular Bacteriology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said in a statement.

A nursing mother Tasmanian devil produces milk accessible in its pouch to feed its vulnerable offspring. Imps, the offspring, will stay there for four months. Scientists believe that the pouch contains pathogens harmful to the offspring, but due to their mother's milk, imps were able to survive the environment in its mother's pouch.

Scientists believe that the milk is rich in immune system boosters. Based on the studies conducted, it was discovered that the Tasmanian devil's milk possesses cathelicidins a type of peptide, which is a natural antibiotic. Humans have one kind of peptides while the animal has 12, making it a good candidate for fighting superbugs.

In an experiment, two types of bacteria, the vancomycin-resistant enterococcus and the methicillin-resistant staphylocossus aureus were exposed to Tasmanian devil's milk; and as expected the bacteria died.

Although the research is only in its early stages, and the production of enough Tasmanian devil's milk is proving to be an obstacle, researchers believe that they are pointed towards the right direction and they might be a step closer to finding an elixir that can fight superbugs.

"I do think it is feasible, though, and this could be a whole new dimension for our arsenal to combat these superbugs. This could lead to very important work," John VandeBerg, geneticist and professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley said in a statement.



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