Looking elsewhere: Tasmanian devils' milk could help fight superbugs

Mother's milk from Tasmanian devils could help the global fight against so-called super-bugs that resist antibiotics, Australian researchers say (AFP Photo/Greg Wood)

Mother's milk from Tasmanian devils could help the global fight against increasingly deadly "superbugs" that resist antibiotics, Australian researchers said Tuesday. Scientists at the University of Sydney found that peptides in the marsupial's milk killed resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant golden staph bacteria and enterococcus, which is resistant to the powerful antibiotic vancomycin. The researchers turned to marsupials like the devil because of their biology. The scientists artificially created the antimicrobial peptides, called cathelicidins, after extracting the sequence from the devil's genome and found they "killed the resistant bacteria … and other bacteria."

Marsupials have more peptides than other mammals. In the devil we found six, whereas humans have only one of this type of peptide.

University of Sydney PhD candidate Emma Peel, who worked on the research published in the journal Scientific Reports

World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan warned last month that some scientists were describing the impact of superbugs as a "slow-motion tsunami" and the situation as "bad and getting worse."

Most of the other previous antibiotics have come from plants, molds and other work that's been around for close to a 100 years, so it's time to start looking elsewhere.

Carolyn Hogg, research manager of the university's Australasian Wildlife Genomics Group
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2050 superbug prediction

Superbugs are bacteria that cannot be treated by current antibiotics and other drugs. A recent British study suggests they could kill up to 10 million people globally by 2050.

Tasmanian devil

The Tasmanian devil(Sarcophilus harrisii) is a carnivorous marsupial of the family Dasyuridae, now found in the wild only on the Australian island state of Tasmania. The size of a small dog, it became the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world following the extinction of the thylacine in 1936.

Antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance(AMR) is the ability of a microbe to resist the effects of medication previously used to treat them. This broader term also covers antibiotic resistance, which applies to bacteria and antibiotics. Resistance arises through one of three ways: natural resistance in certain types of bacteria; genetic mutation; or by one species acquiring resistance from another.

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