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Tech by VICE

How Sloth Fur is Going to Revolutionize Medicine

The cure for cancer might be found on nature's apex couch potato.

by Ben Richmond
Jul 11 2014, 9:00am

As we careen toward a post-antibiotic future—a bad thing—medical researchers and scientists are looking for the next generation of cures and treatments by poking through nature's medicine cabinet: the jungle.

It's such a verdant place that even the figs have wasps that live in them. It's such a competitive environment that that's how the wasps die, leaving just crunching corpses in your Fig Newtons (allegedly).

But amidst the jungle's overwhelming fornication and overwhelming growth hangs one of nature's calmest creatures: the humble sloth. As Thomas Morton, reporting for Vice News explains, “sloths, named by every language they exist in for the sin of being worthlessly lazy, may be so lazy they end up saving us.” 

As I wrote back in January:

Researchers who took a long hard look at what’s populating sloths in Panama have discovered that, among the flora and fauna of sloth hair, there are fungi growing that are resistant to the parasites that cause malaria, human breast cancer cell lines, and a range of pathogenic bacteria.

The [sloth] hairs were cut up and put into cultures, where the fungi could grow for a few weeks and then be closely examined.

The results were 84 different fungal isolates, some of which, the researchers believe, had never been seen before. Using ethyl acetate to make extracts from the fungi, the researchers found two extracts that inhibited the growth of one of the parasites that causes malaria in humans, eight that inhibit the trypanosoma that causes Chagas disease, and 15 that were highly active against the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line.

The next generation of medicines might be culturing on a sloth's still back right now.

Cover Image: Wikimedia Commons
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