In mythology, dragons always have magical properties. Aside from breathing fire and flying, dragon’s blood was believed to have curative powers. It was said to cure blindness and other incurable illnesses, and it could also bestow great wisdom and superhuman strength on those who consumed it. In a slight twist on the ancient dragon myth, it does appear that dragon’s blood really might be able to cure the incurable.
The Komodo dragon, a large reptile that is native to parts of Indonesia, may be the latest player in the rush to find a way to treat deadly antibiotic resistant bacteria. These animals are known for their ability to take down large prey with their bite. Their saliva has a mix of disease-causing bacteria and a mild venom, so that if they fail to kill their prey with one bite, they can wait for this toxic spittle to finish the job. Komodo dragons are resistant to the bites of other dragons, however.
It is this ability to withstand the deadly bite of their fellow dragons that make scientists believe their blood could be the key producing a new class of antibiotics. Most animals carry antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) in their bodies that help them fight infection. The AMPs carried by Komodo dragons are more powerful than those of other animals, which is what allows them to withstand bacteria-laden bites without experiencing any adverse effects.
A team of researchers from George Mason University worked with the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in Florida to get blood samples from some of their Komodo dragons. The team was able to identify 48 AMPs that had never been identified before. They then exposed two known disease-causing bacteria to the most promising of these new AMPs. All but one of the tested AMPs slowed the growth of both infectious bacteria. The remaining AMP was effective against only one of the bacteria.
Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a growing problem around the world. It is estimated that they cause over 700,000 deaths per year and countless other illnesses. The two bacteria that were tested in this study, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus, cause some of the worst drug-resistant infections. If further studies continue to show that the peptides in Komodo dragon blood can cure them, then the mythical powers of dragons may prove to be true, at least in a modern sense.