Pandas Could One Day Help Fight Superbugs
December 31, 2012

Panda Peptide Could Help People Combat Antibiotic-Resistant Microbes

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

The immune system of the giant panda could help scientists develop new treatment for drug-resistant superbugs and other types of diseases, researchers have discovered.

Lead researcher Dr. Xiuwen Yan of the Nanjing Agricultural University's Life Sciences College and colleagues discovered that the immune cells of the endangered creatures produce an antimicrobial peptide, cathelicidin-AM, that is effective in wiping out bacteria.

In fact, it took less than an hour to eliminate the same pathogens that survived for more than six hours when treated with other, well known types of antibiotics, Richard Gray, Science Correspondent with The Telegraph, reported on Sunday.

The results have Dr. Yan and his colleagues hopeful that cathelicidin-AM could ultimately be used to develop new medicines or improved antiseptics for the cleaning of surfaces and utensils, Gray added. Furthermore, they believe that the panda genome may also hold other secrets that could help the medical community.

“It showed potential antimicrobial activities against wide spectrum of microorganisms including bacteria and fungi, both standard and drug-resistant strains," Dr. Yan told The Telegraph. “Under the pressure of increasing microorganisms with drug resistance against conventional antibiotics, there is urgent need to develop new type of antimicrobial agents."

“Gene-encoded antimicrobial peptides play an important role in innate immunity against noxious microorganisms. They cause much less drug resistance of microbes than conventional antibiotics," the researcher added. "More than 1000 antimicrobial peptides have been found from animals, plants, and microorganisms. Analysis revealed that the panda cathelicidin had the nearest evolution relationship with dog cathelicidin."

While the discovery of the peptide could ultimately be used to help keep humans healthier and eliminate potentially life-threatening bacteria, the endangered status of pandas themselves could hamper research efforts. According to the World Wildlife Federation (WWF), there are less than 1,600 pandas remaining in the world today, making them the rarest member of the bear family.

Pandas have long been threatened by slow breeding and a loss of habitat, and in November, a potential loss of food supply was added to the obstacles to the continued existence of the creatures. That's because of predictions that climate change could wipe out bamboo, possibly leading to the extinction of the population by the end of the century.