Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Giant Pandas May Hold the Key to Killing Superbugs

"Giant Pandas may be a rich source of powerful new antibiotic drugs, scientists have discovered." (The Telegraph, Simon Gray, 30 Dec 2012)
According to The Telegraph, scientists have discovered that Giant Pandas produce a powerful antibiotic in their blood stream that kills bacteria and fungi. The substance, known as cathelicidin-AM, is released by the animal’s immune system to protect them from infections when they are living in the wild. Scientists believe that the antibiotic could be used to create potent new treatments against drug-resistant superbugs and other diseases. Dr. Xiuwen Yan, who led the research at the Life Sciences College of Nanjing Agricultural University in China, said, “It showed potential antimicrobial activities against wide spectrum of microorganisms including bacteria and fungi, both standard and drug-resistant strains.”
Fortunately, scientists won’t have to rely on the mere 1,600 giant pandas in the wild to produce this antibiotic. The researchers have been able to synthesize it artificially in the lab by decoding the genes to produce a small molecule known as a peptide.
“Gene-encoded antimicrobial peptides play an important role in innate immunity against noxious microorganisms,” said Dr. Yan. “They cause much less drug resistance of microbes than conventional antibiotics.”
Another promising fact is that cathelicidin-AM, which is produced by immune cells in the animal’s blood, was found to kill bacteria in less than an hour while other well known antibiotics took more than six hours.
The researchers hope to develop the substance either as a new drug to tackle superbugs or as an antiseptic for cleaning surfaces and utensils. Dr Yan and his colleagues also believe the panda genome may be hiding other potentially powerful drugs.

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