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Study finds Komodo dragon blood could hold a key to combating human antibiotic resistance

Two million people are affected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year.


Chris Tognotti

Internet Culture

Posted on Feb 26, 2017   Updated on May 24, 2021, 10:33 pm CDT

New research into Komodo dragons published earlier this month shows that elements in their blood might be hugely consequential for the health and wellness of human beings. 

Komodo dragons are impressive and somewhat intimidating creatures, and people should be wary if they ever get to see one up close. But, according to new research published in the Journal of Proteome Research, there may be a vital secret hidden in the giant lizards’ blood that could be of enormous benefit to humankind, if science manages to fully harness it.

According to the study’s abstract, Komodo dragons (scientific name Varanus komodoensis) are the “largest living lizards and are the apex predators in their environs,” and they and possess innate advantages when it comes to staving off infection. Whether contending with the various infectious bacteria that exist in their saliva or from bite wounds inflicted by other dragons, they’re extremely resistant to bacteria.

Researchers are intrigued by this, because improved resistance to bacterial infection is a quality that would benefit countless people around the world. Especially considering that years of antibiotics overuse has begun to lessen their efficacy, a looming public health crisis that medical researchers have been warning about for decades. 

In 2014, in fact, President Obama signed an executive order specifically geared toward combating the rise of antibiotic- resistant disease. The stakes are high, given just how much of modern medicine is dependent on snuffing out potentially debilitating infections through the use of antibiotics.

According to this latest research, Komodo dragon blood might help in that effort. That’s because it contains many different cationic antimicrobial peptides, chains of amino acids that help the giant lizards stave off infection, some of which have never previously been studied before. And, as George Mason University professor Barney Bishop (the lead author of the study) told Motherboard’s Farnia Fekri, this could have implications for future drug development. Said Bishop:

The peptides may themselves become drugs down the pipe. Or they could provide models and templates for the development of drugs. This has many potential medical applications.

To be clear, this isn’t to say that the medical applications for humans are proven, iron-clad, or right around the corner. But this kind of research sounds promising, and badly needs to be pursued. According to the Centers for Disease Control, some 2 million Americans are infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and about 23,000 of them ultimately die from their illnesses.

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*First Published: Feb 26, 2017, 4:45 pm CST