Like all stories of this nature, this is good news for humans but may end up being bad news for the animal species involved. Scientists have discovered that blood from the Komodo dragon, the world’s largest lizard, can kill the microbes responsible for some of the deadliest human infections. Does this mean that dragons can actually help us pitiful humans survive?
The idea was to examine how animals living in inhospitable, bacteria-teeming environments could survive and thrive.
Barney Bishop, a professor at Virginia’s George Mason University and the lead author of the study published this week in the Journal of Proteome Research, says his team looked at alligators – which are able to survive severe wounds while swimming in filthy water – and Komodo dragons – whose mouths are filled with such deadly bacteria that its bite can kill other animals, yet the dragon swallows plenty of it with no harmful consequences. The dragon won based on the number of bacteria it kills off.
According to Bishop, dragon’s blood contains a super-high amount of cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs), which are immune system protein fragments. We pitiful humans have a few which bolster our immune systems when an infection invades until our bodies can hopefully develop antibodies to kill the bacteria. The team found 48 of these CAMPS in dragon blood and all but one were bacteria fighters. Of those, seven were able to kill both Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus, two of the world’s most antibiotic-resistant, hospital-scaring superbugs.
Before you go trying to raise Komodos and cornering the dragon’s blood market, it’s important to note that zoos have extreme difficulties breeding them. Even if it were possible, Bishop points out that researchers don’t know yet how the CAMPs work. They do know that chugging a mug of Komodo blood will probably make you sick (insert dragon sigh of relief here). Their goal is to eventually create drugs that mimic the peptides.
This is yet another case of nature imitating fiction. In German mythology, the blood of a slain dragon rubbed on skin or armor rendered it impenetrable. On the other hand, the blood of a dragon in Beowolf ate through iron. In a similar way, the blood of a Komodo dragon is both deadly and protective.
Let’s hope common sense protects the Komodos before no-sense billionaires from Silicon Valley turn from teens to dragons for their fountain of youth.