Komodo dragons aren’t known to be the most family-friendly of lizards — they have rough skin, a forked tongue and powerful claws. But they also nurse their wounds with their antimicrobial saliva and blood, which could actually benefit humans.
“Komodo dragons are the largest living lizards and are the apex predators in their environs,” the authors wrote in a study, published in the Journal of Proteome Research. “They endure numerous strains of pathogenic bacteria in their saliva and recover from wounds inflicted by other dragons, reflecting the inherent robustness of their innate immune defense.”
Specifically, the Komodo dragon’s saliva carries 57 species of bacteria at minimum. It’s thought that the overwhelming amount of bacteria helps to kill their prey.
In order to identify the cationic antimicrobial peptides, or CAMPs, within the komodo dragon’s blood, the scientists incubated blood samples with particles designed to catch the peptides in a process known as biprospecting.
“We set out to investigate the blood of the Komodo dragon, to try and find out more about its antimicrobial peptides, referring to small proteins that are part of its immune system,” said Barney Bishop, lead author of the study, to Digital Trends. “Komodo dragons have a reputation for having robust immune systems that allow them to live in very difficult environments, and be unaffected by bacteria that can cause all types of disease. They also recover very effectively from injuries and wounds inflicted by other dragons.”
48 potential CAMPs were identified and described by the authors as derived from histone proteins, important proteins that are found in a cell’s nucleus and are known to have antimicrobial traits.
Only one of the potential CAMPs was not derived from histone proteins. Eight of the peptides were tested against bacterium known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus.
Seven of the eight CAMPs successfully combatted both microbes, while one demonstrated “significant potency” against P. aeruginosa. The authors said the study highlights how their approach of bioprospecting can lead to CAMP discovery.
The findings could have broader implications in defending against infections, the authors wrote. Bishop said that while the CAMPs within the blood are promising, no specific drug has been developed.
“We’re still a ways away from developing an actual drug,” Bishop said to Digital Trends. “Bringing a drug from invention to approval to market takes around 12 years or so.”
The study was funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.