As more people use antibiotics to fight infections, certain strains of bacteria are becoming harder to beat. A future tool in the fight against drug-resistant superbugs may come from an unusual source: Tasmanian devil milk. As Gizmodo reports, milk from the marsupials contains certain chemical compounds that can wipe out most dangerous bacterial infections.
For their research, recently published in Scientific Reports, scientists from the University of Sydney analyzed Tasmanian devil milk in their search for new superbug-fighting compounds. Milk from marsupials like Tasmanian devils differs from that of other mammals in that it has to provide nourishment to an underdeveloped infant. Joeys enter the pouch after a little more than a month of gestation, and their mother’s milk offers them extra immune support once they leave the safety of the womb.
The research team was able to pin down the compounds responsible for this special property. Tasmanian devil’s milk contains six antimicrobial peptides called cathelicidins. For comparison, humans have just one. After synthesizing the compounds in the lab, researchers found them to be effective against potentially deadly bacteria such as vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecalis and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or golden staph.
Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are one of the biggest health threats we’re currently facing. Tasmanian devils aren’t the only marsupials that might prove useful in the battle against them: Wallabies and opossums boast exceptionally high numbers of antimicrobial compounds as well. Study researcher Emma Peel told the BBC that studies into koala milk are also underway.