Mason researchers explore the uses of Komodo dragon blood
BY OLIVIA VERMANE, STAFF WRITER
Researchers Barney Bishop and Monique van Hoek, along with a team of undergraduate and graduate students, have opened a new door into the world of antibacterial treatment with an unusual origin: the blood of a Komodo dragon.
Komodo dragons drew the researchers’ attention specifically for their innate immunity and unique resistance to bacteria. The team hypothesized that antimicrobial peptides may be a factor in the dragons’ level of innate immunity, and as it turns out, they were right.
The antimicrobial peptides have a broad range of uses, such as, “to directly kill bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses and even cancer cells.”
Tujah, a Komodo dragon who came from the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park in Florida, provided researchers with about four tablespoons of blood, which allowed Bishop and van Hoek to better understand why these reptiles are so resistant to illness, according to The New York Times.
Bishop and van Hoek’s findings consist of identifying antimicrobial peptide genes within the blood of the Komodo dragon and artificially sequencing these peptides with the purpose of using them to combat drug-resistant bacteria.
“We’re not talking about making drugs from the peptides we’ve identified or from the … Komodo dragons. We’re trying to make a synthetic, artificial peptide based on the ones we’ve identified,” said Bishop, an associate professor in Mason’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
Their study, which was published in the scientific journals BMC Genomics and Biofilms and Microbiomes, discusses “the sequencing, assembly and analysis of the Komodo dragon genome.”
This research also stems from a discovery in the plasma of the Komodo dragon, which in previous years was identified to have unique antimicrobial peptides. Bishop, van Hoek and their team are continuing to test over 40 different substances found within Komodo dragon blood, according to The New York Times.
When discussing the study and their discoveries, Bishop confirmed that no animals were harmed during testing.
Bishop also provided clarification on the misconception over whether or not it is the blood itself that is useful.
“There’s no medical benefit derived from the Komodo dragon blood directly,” said Bishop. Instead, the synthesized peptides that are modeled after those in the Komodo dragon blood will hopefully be beneficial in antibacterial treatments.
This discovery comes at a time in the antibacterial drug world when the count of drug-resistant bacteria has been on the rise, according to the World Health Organization.
Mason has been working with these reptiles since 1992, when the first Komodo dragon hatched outside of Indonesia was hatched in captivity under the care of Geoffrey Birchard, Ph.D., a professor at Mason.
Though this research has been ongoing since 2009, Bishop hopes for the project to continue to advance in the future, and is happy with the progress and discoveries made so far.
The team hopes that they have made progress not only in research, but in the lives of students and aspiring scientists with the work they have accomplished.
“One of the most rewarding things about it has been … helping to encourage new generations [and] new fascination with science,” said Bishop.