Magic milk: fighting infections with a clue from the echidna

  1. Scientists at the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research – Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CSIR-CCMB) have isolated an anti-microbial protein found in the milk of Echidnas. According to scientists, the new finding could be an alternative to antibiotics used on livestock. The research has been published in Biochimica et Biophysica Acta – Biomembranes.
  2. Echidnas are also known as spiny anteaters. They are unique egg-laying mammals found only in Australia and New Guinea.
  3. Echidnas hatch from eggs at a very early stage of development and depend completely on mother’s milk. However, the mammary glands of the echidnas are devoid of nipples, forcing the young ones to lick milk from the mother’s body surface and thus making them vulnerable to micro-organisms.
  4. However, the milk contains a novel anti-microbial protein that helps to keep young ones safe from infections. Research has revealed that the protein punctures cell membranes of bacteria thus destroying the source of infection.
  5. Scientists have said that there are ways to produce the protein in large quantities using E. coli and can then be used to fight mastitis-an infection of the mammary gland, in dairy animals. Due to indiscriminate use of antibiotics in livestock there is a rise of superbugs which can cause mastitis.
  6. Microorganisms that develop antimicrobial resistance are referred to as “superbugs”. Anti-microbial resistance is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and some parasites) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics, antifungals, antivirals and antimalarials) from working against it.