What’s the most dangerous job in the world? If you said “milking Tasmanian devils,” you’re getting ahead of me here. Researchers (brave researchers) have determined that the milk from female Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii) contains at least six antimicrobial compounds (we humans have only one) that can kill some of the most deadly bacterial and fungal infections – including many plaguing hospitals despite Herculean efforts in disinfecting and preventing.
It was really exciting. We showed that these devil peptides kill multi-drug resistant bacteria, which is really cool.
Researcher Emma Peel (not the Avenger) from the University of Sydney is not talking about the milking part. The peptides she’s referring to are the six mighty antimicrobial compounds discovered when devil’s milk was tested on 25 deadly bacteria and six fatal funguses. Peel and the research teams found that the compounds killed golden staph (Staphylococcus aureus) – the scourge of hospitals which causes food poisoning, pneumonia and toxic shock syndrome; the rare yeast Candida krusei – another hospital contaminant with a high mortality rate; Enterococcus - a bacteria which causes meningitis and urinary tract infections; and Cryptococcus gattii – a hyper-virulent and frequently fatal airborne fungus that also affects both domestic and wild animals.
While the discovery of the potency of Tasmanian devil milk is great news for humans, especially those with weak immune systems, it’s also good news for the devils themselves who have lost 80% of their population in just 20 years due to a deadly facial tumor disease.
I really believed that the solution to the devils disease was something within them … this is only further supporting that.
Androo Kelly, owner and director of Trowunna Wildlife park in northern Tasmania, which has bred 16 generations of devils, says this disease-killing power of devil’s milk also explains how pups – which are born without a mature immune system and take 90 days to develop one – did not contract the facial tumor disease and also manage to survive for 100 days crammed with other pups in their mother’s not-too-sanitary pouch.
And now, Emma Peel’s answer to the question on all of your minds:
Very, very carefully and with a lots of safety gear.
Androo Kelly agrees about the dangers of milking devils.
The devils that we have, we have mothers with young that are also used to being handled, so it’s a simple thing that when the mothers are lactating you just squeeze the milk out. I don’t think you would set up a dairy.
Then again, maybe we’ll have to. Disease experts estimate that drug resistant infections will kill an extra 10 million people a year worldwide by 2050 – that’s more than currently die from cancer.
Before you go trying to milk a Tasmanian devil, the researchers are already working on developing synthetic versions of the potent peptides.
In the meantime, beware of anyone who sees a Tasmanian devil and says, “Hey, mate. Hold my beer and watch this.”