The milk of Echidna – an egg laying mammal – contains a novel anti-microbial protein that may be used as alternatives to the present antibiotics, scientists have found.
The research paves way for novel antibiotics that can help fight against infections that are resistant to existing drugs.
Researchers at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) found ways to produce the anti-microbial protein (AMP) in large quantities using E coli bacteria.
The AMP creates punctures in the cell membranes of multiple bacterial species, according to the research team led by Satish Kumar at CCMB.
Unlike mammals which directly give birth to their young ones, Echidna (also known as spiny anteaters) are unique egg laying mammals found only in Australia and New Guinea.
Their young ones hatch out of eggs at a very early stage of development and depend completely on their mothers’ milk.
However, the mammary glands of the female Echidna are devoid of nipples. So, in contrast to mammals with placenta where their young suck milk directly from nipples, the young of these egg-laying mammals lick milk from the body surface of their mothers, researchers said.
CCMB scientists have found that the milk of these animals contain a novel anti-microbial protein, important to keep their young ones safe from possible infections.
The research, published in the journal Biochimica et Biophysica Acta – Biomembranes, has shown that this protein creates punctures in the cell membranes of multiple bacterial species and so in future can be used as alternatives to the present antibiotics.
With antibiotics being used indiscriminately, to maintain healthy livestock and as growth promoters, this has also led to the rise of multiple antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains.
According to the researchers, mastitis, an infection of mammary gland of lactating dairy animals, is one such challenge where the number of effective antibiotics is on a decline.
In some extreme cases, mastitis causes permanent damage to the mammary tissue. The AMP from Echidna is potent against mastitis causing bacteria, researchers said.
“Studies such as these give us novel approaches to fighting infectious diseases by taking clues from nature. They are the best way forward in this emerging scenario of increased infectious disease burden and resistance to current treatments,” said Rakesh Mishra, CCMB Director.