How the Tasmanian Devil Can Kill MRSA and Other Pathogens

Tasmanian devil MRSA

For some people, the Tasmanian devil is a cartoon character, but for others it could represent an opportunity to kill MRSA (methicillin-resistant S. aureus) and other dangerous pathogens. New research indicates that the milk of these marsupials, who are found only on the island of Tasmania, contains special peptides that can destroy potentially deadly human germs.

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What Tasmanian devils may offer humans

While human infants are often whisked away immediately after birth, cleaned up, subjected to a variety of disease-preventive measures, and protected against harmful elements, Tasmanian devil babies, known as joeys, are born before they are fully developed and are exposed to their mother’s pouch and burrow, both of which are havens for pathogens. They are protected against these potentially deadly germs by cathelicidins, antimicrobial substances in the pouch lining and in the milk and skin of their mothers.

Researchers have discovered that of the six cathelicidins found in Tasmanian devils, two of them—Saha-Cath5 and 6—are capable of killing about two dozen serious human pathogens, including MRSA, vancomycin-resistant E. faecalis, and several strains of E. coli, S. aureus, and P. aeruginosa, among others. A third cathelicidin, Saha-CATH3, was effective against fungi (C. neoformans, which affects the lungs and central nervous system), while the remaining three did not prove to be effective against any of the other bacteria or fungi tested.

What are cathelicidins?

Cathelicidins are antimicrobial peptides (short-chained amino acids) that have natural antibiotic properties. They serve a critical role in protecting mammals against invading bacteria and resulting infections and can kill a wide range of bacteria, parasites, and fungi.

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Cathelicidins also help suppress pro-inflammatory factors and are involved in the development of immune cells and new blood cells.

What this study means for you

The information gathered from this study does not mean you will be seeing Tasmanian milk on your supermarket shelves. It does mean, however, that the Tasmanian devil cathelicidins may be potential candidates for the development of new drugs by scientists.

More specifically, the broad antibacterial activity seen with Saha-CATH5 and 6 could be used to develop drugs against the specific pathogens while Saha-CATH3 seemed promising for future development of antifungal drugs.

Source
Peel E et al. Cathelicidins in the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii). Scientific Reports 2016; report 6, no. 35019

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