Tassie Devil's milk offers hope against superbugs

SYDNEY • Mother's milk from marsupials known as Tasmanian Devils could help the global fight against increasingly deadly superbugs, which are bacteria that cannot be treated by current antibiotics and other drugs.

A recent British study said superbugs could kill up to 10 million people globally by 2050.

Scientists at the University of Sydney said yesterday that they found that peptides in the marsupial's milk killed resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant golden staph bacteria and enterococcus that is resistant to the powerful antibiotic vancomycin.

The researchers turned to marsupials such as the devil - which carry their young in a pouch after birth - because of their biology. The underdeveloped young have an immature immune system when they are born, yet survive growth in their mother's bacteria-filled pouch.

"We think this has led to an expansion of these peptides in marsupials," said University of Sydney PhD candidate Emma Peel, who worked on the research published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

"Marsupials have more peptides than other mammals. In the devil, we found six, whereas humans have only one of this type of peptide."

The scientists are hopeful that marsupial peptides could be used to develop new antibiotics for humans to fight superbugs.

"One of the most difficult things in today's world is to try and find new antibiotics for drug-resistant strains of bacteria," said the research manager of the university's Australasian Wildlife Genomics Group, Ms Carolyn Hogg.

"Most of the other previous antibiotics have come from plants, moulds and other work that has been around for close to a 100 years, so it is time to start looking elsewhere."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2016, with the headline 'Tassie Devil's milk offers hope against superbugs'. Print Edition | Subscribe