Devil's Milk Could Be the Killer Ingredient in War on Superbugs

Bridie Smith | The Age | October 17, 2016

Devil's milk has proved to be an unlikely weapon in the increasingly desperate global fight against superbugs. Australian researchers have discovered that peptides contained in the milk of Tasmanian devils can kill some of the most deadly bacterial and fungal infections, including golden staph. Having scanned the devil's genome and discovered the six naturally occurring antimicrobial peptides, researchers from Sydney University set about replicating them artificially. They then tested the peptide's effectiveness at killing some of the most harmful bacteria known to humans.

Tasmanian devil (Credit - Buffy May, Flickr, CC-BY-SA-2.0)

"It was really exciting," said PhD candidate Emma Peel. Given the marsupial delivers highly under-developed young after just 21 days gestation, there was some expectation that mother's milk would play a role in the development of the joeys' immune system after birth. However Ms Peel, a biologist, said they weren't expecting to find what they did. "We showed that these devil peptides kill multi-drug resistant bacteria, which is really cool," she said.

Among the drug resistant bacteria the devil peptides killed was golden staph, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. A potentially fatal bacterium carried by about 30 per cent of people in their nose or on their skin, it is mostly harmless. However if it gets into the bloodstream via a wound, it can be deadly. The other problematic human pathogen tested was the bacteria enterococcus​, which is resistant to the mighty vancomycin antibiotic. "Vancomycin is a pretty potent antibiotic and if a bug is resistant to that, then there aren't a lot of drug options available to you," Ms Peel said...