Monday, May 10, 2010

The platypus and the miracle of Mother Nature

Ornothornychus anatinus. That’s the proper name of the platypus [1] – an egg-laying mammal (aka monotreme; the only other monotreme’s the echidna) found in Tasmania (including in the Mole Creek at our bridge) and mainland Australia’s east coast. Platypus spend about half their time in waterside burrows. Also females dig elaborate 20-metre long nesting burrows where they lay and hatch their eggs, and which they share with their unweaned young for about four months until the young are weaned. Platypus watchers have long been intrigued as to why platypus young don’t get infections – given they’re born thumbnail-sized into germ-laden burrows. Last week Victorian Government and Sydney University researchers announced that when sequencing the platypus genome they’d located two new peptides (i.e. proteins) with a very potent antibiotic effect [2]. These peptides, found in platypus milk, aren’t related to existing antibiotics, are around 10 times more potent than existing antibiotics, and have already been shown to kill Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA]. Also, and even more potentially usefully, these peptides are being tested to identify if they reduce microbes in the rumens of cattle and sheep, so reducing methane emissions [3]. Australian livestock produces 17% of our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions; so the potential benefit to our planet’s self evident – and massive. One can but marvel at Mother Nature and her ingenuity.


Chrows25 aka Leather Woman said...

That is fascinating, what an amazing discovery, Let's hope we use it wisely.

Anonymous said...

Hi - the reason we need to look for new antibiotics is because of the widespread and indescriminate use of the old ones we had, including to livestock. The idea of undermining the potential value of this drug to humans by giving it to livestock is absurd. As infectious diseases evolve we need to stay ahead of them with our treatments or we will end up with MRSA, multi-strain resistant human TB and other diseases impacting our survival rates as their cousins did as recently as 150 years ago.
Am I cynical in thinking someone wants to get rich quick via carbon credits?

farmdoc said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Anonymous.
Of course you're correct regarding the reasons for the emergence of MRSA and other virulent micro-organisms.
But I disagree with you about reserving new drugs for humans. For unless something major is done about global warming - and soon - then it may well destroy human 'civilisation' as we know it.
PS Yes, I think you are somewhat cynical regarding carbon credit wealth. For a carbon trading scheme won't be introduced in Australia until 2013 at the earliest.