Komodo dragons have terrible oral hygiene. But their bacteria-ridden spit might just save us all.
Researchers at the United States' George Mason University have found a special protein in the lizard's blood that allows it to fight off infections from the harmful bacteria found in their mouths. The protein, a cationic antimicrobial peptide, has now been synthesized a new drug called DRGN-1 that is proving effective in preclinical trials at treating infected wounds.
"It both clears the bacteria out of the wounds and it helps the wounds to heal," Monique van Hoek, one of the researchers, told the Huffington Post.
The key to the new drug's success has to do with the disgusting lifestyle of Indonesia's Komodo dragon. The carnivorous lizard, endemic to a single island, has drool that's so full of bacteria that their bite is often fatal. Or at least that's what scientists always thought. Recent studies show that the dragons' mouths are actually cleaner than those of a lion or Tasmanian devil.
Scientists now think their bites aren't that venomous at all and that blood loss, or a habit of hanging out in a pool of buffalo excrement, are what's killing their prey.
But the lizards still, interestingly enough, need a special protein to ward off infections. Ande Kefi, an expert at the Komodo National Park, said that young dragons often die if they eat contaminated meat. But as the lizards get older, they become more resistant to bacteria, he told VICE Indonesia. That's how they can hang out all day eating rotting meat when they feel like it. He hopes more researchers will come to Indonesia to search for natural cures as antibiotic-resistant diseases continue to pose a threat.
"Indonesia is full of indigenous plants and animals with magical healing properties," he told VICE Indonesia. "The Komodo dragon is just one species. We need to collaborate with international experts to preserve, cultivate, and research the potential benefits these plants and animals can bring to mankind."
The United Nations declared that antibiotic-resistant "superbugs" were the biggest global health threat at a press conference last year calling for countries to limit the use of antibiotics when treating illness. The over-prescription of low-cost antibiotics has been named as the root cause of a spike in these so-called superbugs—which kill as many as 700,000 globally every year.
"We're in an age of emerging antibiotic resistance," van Hoek said. "We think it's very important to take these new approaches to discover new ways to kill bacteria. By going into nature, we're finding a new starting point for this."