Komodo dragons are large, scary, and their blood could save human lives

komodo dragon antibiotics 58178786 l
Max Dominik Daiber/123RF
Here’s one way you could haze a new intern in a biomedical lab: Ask them to go track down a sample of Komodo dragon blood for analysis.

The big, strong, venomous creatures (referring to Komodo dragons, not interns!) are Indonesian natives, the largest living lizards in the world — and probably not the biggest fans of being used to help humans research better antibiotics.

That’s what intrepid scientists at several U.S. universities — including Virginia Polytechnic Institute, George Mason University, and the University of Florida — are doing, however. In a study published this month in the Journal of Proteome Research, they describe how the antimicrobial blood of Komodo dragons could help us puny humans battle infection.

“We set out to investigate the blood of the Komodo dragon, to try and find out more about its antimicrobial peptides, referring to small proteins that are part of its immune system,” Barney Bishop, a professor at Virginia’s George Mason University and lead author of the paper, told Digital Trends. “Komodo dragons have a reputation for having robust immune systems that allow them to live in very difficult environments, and be unaffected by bacteria that can cause all types of disease. They also recover very effectively from injuries and wounds inflicted by other dragons.”

By sequencing the peptides of Komodo dragons belonging to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in Florida, the researchers were able to accurately predict which possessed antimicrobial properties. The handful of peptides that looked most promising were then analyzed in detail as part of the paper.

“We’re still a ways away from developing an actual drug,” Bishop said. “Bringing a drug from invention to approval to market takes around 12 years or so.” However, the work is significant in that it is starting to analyze the Komodo dragon’s tough immune system in a way that may one day be helpful in a medical context.

And don’t worry about the Komodo dragons, either. The other exciting part of the research is that this analysis was able to be carried out using very small blood samples, consisting of just 100 microliters of plasma. Should this research eventually lead to a drug, the idea would be to synthesize peptides based on the research results.

That’s particularly important when you’re dealing with an endangered species, which Komodo dragons are. “They’re like national treasures in Indonesia,” Bishop continued. “You’ve got to treat them gingerly — despite the fact that they’re not going to necessarily treat us gingerly!”

Emerging Tech

I mainlined a bag of liquid vitamins — for science

Healthy people are signing up for treatments that are typically saved for patients stuck in hospital beds. Known as nutrient IV therapy, the treatment entails pumping vitamins, minerals, and fluids directly into the bloodstream, bypassing…
Movies & TV

The best movies on Netflix in March, from Buster Scruggs to Roma

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Emerging Tech

The rise and reign of Starship, the world’s first robotic delivery provider

Excited about the impending delivery robot revolution? If so, you need to get familiar with Starship Technologies, the company which pioneered the whole thing. Here's what you need to know.
Home Theater

What’s new on Amazon Prime Video and what’s leaving in June 2019

Amazon Prime Video adds new titles each month that are available for free to all Prime members. Check out our list to find all of the content hitting Amazon Prime Video in May and June, from new original series to classic films.
Emerging Tech

Whose name should we etch on the Mars 2020 rover? NASA wants a vote

Dream of making it to Mars? NASA has opened up a new public outreach program to let people send their names to the Red Planet, as an engraving on a silicon chip launched with the Mars 2020 rover.
Emerging Tech

Watch live as SpaceX tries, for the third time, to launch 60 Starlink satellites

SpaceX is having another go at launching the first 60 satellites for its ultra-ambitious Starlink internet constellation. Here's how you can tune in live to watch it all go down today.
Emerging Tech

What would it take to build a Matrix-level simulation of reality?

What would it take, technologically speaking, to build a real version of the Matrix? We definitely don't have the technical abilities to do that now, but we're rapidly approaching the point that we will. In this article, MIT computer…
Emerging Tech

SpaceX joins internet-from-space race with launch of 60 Starlink satellites

SpaceX has launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying its first batch of Starlink satellites for its ambitious internet-from-space project. The payload, SpaceX's heaviest to date, successfully deployed an hour after liftoff.
Emerging Tech

The best solar chargers for your phone, tablet, and other battery-powered gear

Looking for a gizmo that can help you charge your phone while on the go? Here, we've outlined the best solar chargers on the market, whether you're looking to charge your phone once, twice, or three times over.
Emerging Tech

This plane-pulling robo-dog makes Boston Dynamics’ Spot look scrawny

A robot dog created by researchers at Italy’s Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia showed off its impressive ability to pull a three-ton airplane down a runway. Check it out in action.
Emerging Tech

Scientists discover unexpected underwater volcano off the coast of Africa

Geologists first noticed something unusual in the Indian Ocean in November last year, when they detected a massive seismic event. Now further research has revealed that the source of the seismic activity is an enormous underwater volcano.
Emerging Tech

Jupiter’s vast magnetic field stretches over time, driven by atmospheric wind

Jupiter has the most powerful magnetic field in our Solar System, 18,000 times as strong as Earth's. Now scientists have discovered that the field changes over time, in an effect called secular variation.
Emerging Tech

Three rare exocomets spotted in orbit around a nearby star

Scientists have spotted three exocomets, or comets outside of our Solar System, in orbit around a bright young star called Beta Pictoris in the constellation of Pictor using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanets Survey Satellite (TESS).
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Tricked-out e-scooters and bike lights that lock

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it's fun to gawk!