As superbugs become more and more common and antibiotic resistance reaches crisis levels, scientists are continually searching for the answer to this long-term threat to human development. Inevitably, this quest leads them to some pretty strange places.
The World Health Organisation calls this a “post-antibiotic era” where minor infections could become deadly. Public Health England reckons that almost 20% of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary, yet their repeated usage is causing an unprecedented growth in antibiotic resistance.
There’s currently a ‘dirty dozen’ of dangerous bacteria that have developed resistance to the drugs that are commonly used to treat run-of-the-mill infections. Currently, antibiotic-resistance costs around 700,000 lives each year; a shocking figure that experts predict will reach up to 10 million annual deaths by 2050 if the crisis can’t be halted. Holy hell.
Cue to the stage, our favourite, super-weird-looking-but-kinda-adorable Aussie animal; the duck-billed platypus. Turns out, the milk of these animals could be the key to developing new drugs that can take down superbugs.
This isn’t the platypus’ first rodeo though; it was back in 2010 that researchers first worked out that platypus milk had one-of-a-kind antibacterial properties, and since then their venom has been researched for potential uses in diabetes treatments. So yah, they’re pretty comfortable in the limelight.
Akin to their bizarre appearance, it seems like they’ve got bizarre biochemistry to boot. New research into the protein in their milk has shown that the milk’s unique antibacterial properties that could save lives. This protein has been affectionately dubbed the ‘Shirley Temple’ by Australia’s CSIRO thanks to its tight, ringlet-esque shape and researchers believe that it’s the breakthrough they’ve been looking for.
While platypuses produce milk, they don’t have teats to nurse with. Instead, they ‘sweat’ their milk onto their bellies, secreting it through the skin for their offspring to suckle at, exposing their milk to the environment and leaving their young at the mercy of bacteria. This could explain why their milk has developed to contain such strong anti-bacterial properties. Gosh science, you’re actually pretty cool.
Here’s hoping that research continues and leads to a viable solution for antibiotic resistance. As the stats show, it can’t come quick enough.