Giant Pandas aren't just cute, furry and endangered, they also have formidable immune systems to protect them against a wide range of harmful bacterial and fungal organisms. Now Chinese researchers investigating the pandas' DNA have unlocked their disease-fighting secret: a powerful new antibiotic that humans could use to fight increasingly drug-resistant microbes. The research summary has been published in Volume 492, Issue 2 of the journal GENE.
The compound, named “Cathelicidin-AM” by scientists at the Life Sciences College of Nanjing Agricultural University, is a component of the panda's blood that evolved to protect the creatures in their wild, mountainous habitat. Unlike other natural antibiotics such as Penicillin which was synthesized from a type of mold, pandas produce Cathelicidin-AM from a unique genetically prompted peptide molecule. As such, it's effective against both bacteria and fungi. “Gene-encoded antimicrobial peptides play an important role in innate immunity against noxious microorganisms,” stated lead researcher Dr Xiuwen Yan. “They cause much less drug resistance of microbes than conventional antibiotics.”
Not only is Cathelicidin-AM effective, it also works surprisingly quickly. Tests conducted by the Chinese researchers found that the compound neutralized noxious bacterial cultures in under an hour. Similar testing with Clindamycin, a currently-used antibiotic, required more than six hours to achieve a similar result. Only about 1,600 Giant Pandas remain in the wild but not to worry, pandas everywhere need not fear hordes of syringe-toting scientists making like vampires. Thanks to refined DNA analysis and decoding techniques, it's possible to artificially synthesize Cathelicidin-AM in laboratory settings by inorganically producing the panda peptide.
The end result is a win-win for both people and pandas. The discovery will also boost efforts to conserve endangered animals like the Giant Panda, as Dr Yan and his colleagues believe other potential life-saving drugs lurk undiscovered within the panda's genome. (via Shanghaiist, images via Smithsonian's National Zoo)