Washington, April 8 : Chemists in Louisiana, US, have found that the blood of alligators can be used to develop powerful new antibiotics, which can also deplete and destroy a significant amount of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
A report in National Geographic News stated that the chemists found that blood from the American alligator can successfully destroy 23 strains of bacteria, including strains known to be resistant to antibiotics.
According to study co-author Lancia Darville at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, peptides-fragments of proteins-within alligator blood, help the animals stave off fatal infections.
Such peptides are also found in the skin of frogs and toads, as well as in Komodo dragons and crocodiles.
The scientists think that these peptides could one day lead to medicines that would provide humans with the same antibiotic protection.
"We are in the process of separating and identifying the specific peptides in alligator blood," said Darville. "Once we sequence these peptides, we can obtain their chemical structure to potentially create new drugs," he added.
Study co-author Mark Merchant, a biochemist at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was among the first to notice alligators' unusual resistance.
He was intrigued that, despite living in swampy environments where bacteria thrive, alligators that suffered frequent scratches and bruises rarely developed fatal infections.
Merchant therefore created human and alligator serum-protein-rich blood plasma that has had clotting agents removed-and exposed each of them to 23 strains of bacteria.
While human serum destroyed only eight of the bacterial strains, the alligator serum killed all 23, including drug-resistant bacteria such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).
When the alligator serum was exposed to HIV, the researchers found that a good amount of the virus was destroyed as well.
According to the study team, pills and creams containing alligator peptides could be available at local pharmacies within seven to ten years.
Such products would be a boon to patients that need extra help preventing infections, such as diabetes patients with foot ulcers, burn victims, and people suffering from auto-immune diseases.
Adam Britton, a biologist based in northern Australia, has found similar antimicrobial proteins called crocodillins in the blood of crocodiles.
"Antimicrobial peptides in crocodiles and alligators are part of the animals' innate immune systems, which provide automatic protection from certain diseases," said Britton.
"It appears that alligator and crocodile antimicrobial peptides are extremely effective agents against bacteria," he added.
Britton hopes to use Australian crocodile blood to complement the latest work on alligators and answer questions about what these proteins mean for immune systems in general.
"If we can harness these secrets, we could be on the verge of a major advance in medical science," he said.