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Not So Primitive: Alligator DNA Causing Superbugs to Go Extinct?

Equipped with a powerful tail, a massive jaw adorned with jagged teeth, and an armored body all infused with lethal instincts, it is no wonder why alligators are reminiscent of a time when dinosaurs ruled! Yet these apex predators are more than mere relics of the distant past. They may just hold the key to unlocking some of the medical community’s most complex dilemmas.

Alligators frequently acquire serious injuries when fighting for territory and mates. During conquests, it is not uncommon for an animal to lose a limb or portion of the tail. For most species dwelling in swamps laced with bacteria and fungi, such wounds would be a detriment to survival. Research has shown that alligators rarely exhibit physiological symptoms of an infection. In fact, an alligator’s immune system is anything but primitive and functions both innately and adaptively. Studies are illustrating that alligator blood is incredibly advanced and unlike anything we have studied before. Their immune systems are comprised of antimicrobial peptides, macrophages, heterophils, basophils, eosinophils, phagocytic B cells, and proteins. The proteins are proving to yield some inspiring potential!

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Mark Merchant, a biochemist and professor at McNeese State University has been investigating the intricacies of alligator blood and potential pharmaceutical applications. Merchant’s work has led to the discovery that alligators can fight off microorganisms even without previous exposure. Furthermore, data from his studies have illustrated that alligator white blood cells create tiny proteins possessing tremendous antibacterial and antifungal properties. Merchant and his colleagues discovered that American alligator blood successfully destroyed twenty-three strains of bacteria, including MRSA during lab experiments involving petri dishes with the samples. The proteins in the alligator serum have a strong positive charge, which draws to the negative charge on the outer walls of bacteria. This creates a magnetic-like effect, successfully killing off the tested bacteria. Additionally, the samples depleted and destroyed significant amounts of HIV. In contrast, human serum exposed to the same strains were only effective in combatting eight of the samples. The work that Merchant and his colleagues are conducting holds genuine implications for people suffering from serious diseases.

The scientific community is in a frenzy about the potency and proposed applications of alligator blood! It is feasible that these mighty reptiles may serve as medical ambassadors carrying a novel generation of antibiotics with the potential to ward off even the most tenacious of superbugs. While studies are showing strong promise, the serum cannot be safely injected directly into human veins. So readers should be cautioned against any attempts at a do-it-yourself alligator blood transfusion. The human body would recognize it as a foreign substance and would likely respond with a massive allergic response. Instead, researchers envision sequencing the specific peptides in alligator blood in order to obtain their chemical structure. The goal is to synthesize them in a pharmacology lab and produce a new class of safe therapies.

Beyond the potential for a novel generation of antibiotics, it is also hypothesized that alligator blood could be turned into a cream.  Transdermal medications are a popular trend in compounding pharmacy and for good reason. This form of administration is highly advantageous in that it can bypass firstpass metabolism and work directly at the site where the medication is applied. This reduces the potential for drug-to-drug interactions, as well as eliminates common systemic side effects such as GI upset. These characteristics are of particular importance when handling diabetic patients. Merchant predicts that alligator cream could treat diabetic ulcers and help prevent infections from setting in, thus avoiding related amputations. Burn victims may also apply alligator cream to counter infection threats while awaiting the skin to heal.  It is only a matter of time before science allows us to harness this power in groundbreaking ways. Now more than ever, we must respect, appreciate, and defend the value of alligators! Let this be one more reason to celebrate CROCtober!




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