Tasmanian devil milk may hold key to killing superbugs

October 18, 2016, 10:51 a.m.
Tasmanian devil portrait
Photo: Flash-ka/Shutterstock

Tasmanian devils have a reputation for ferocity, and that reputation can now carry right on into the mammal's milk! Recent research shows that six naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides are found in the milk that can kill off even the most fierce bacterial and fungal infections.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald:

Having scanned the devil's genome and discovered the six naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides, researchers from Sydney University set about replicating them artificially. They then tested the peptide's effectiveness at killing some of the most harmful bacteria known to humans.

The researchers found the peptides are effective against golden staph, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, and antibiotic-resistant enterococcus. The new research could potentially lead to breakthroughs in fighting "superbugs" that are resistant to today's medications. Such a jump in progress could save millions of lives each year.

And we would owe it all to the famously tough Tasmanian devil and perhaps to other marsupial species including koalas, opossums and wallabies. A study on the peptides in koala milk is currently underway.

"Australia has lots of marsupials which would have evolved to protect their joeys from different pathogens in different environments," [Sydney University geneticist Kathy] Belov said. "There has to be a treasure trove of amazing peptides out there to be discovered."