Platypus Milk Could Save Lives

Australian scientists have discovered a new formula to help the global fight against antibiotic resistance.

A breakthrough has been made in Australia that could help the fight against resistant antibiotics, using the most unlikely of formulas: platypus milk.

After decades of studying the unique animal, scientists found in 2010 that platypus milk contained unique antibacterial properties, used to fight superbugs.

Today, researchers working at the CSIRO in collaboration with Deakin University have discovered why Platypus milk is particularly “potent” and how the miracle milk could help save lives.

The team of researchers first made the discovery while replicating a special protein that is found in Platypus milk.

“Platypus are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry,” CSIRO scientist and lead author on the research published in Structural Biology Communications, Dr Janet Newman said.

“The platypus belongs to the monotreme family, a small group of mammals that lay eggs and produce milk to feed their young. By taking a closer look at their milk, we’ve characterised a new protein that has unique antibacterial properties with the potential to save lives."

Platypus don’t have teats for their young to suck, instead, they express milk onto their stomach, leaving the mother’s nutritious milk to the environment leaving platypus babies susceptible to bacteria.

According to Deakin University’s Dr Julie Sharp, researchers believe this is was why platypus milk contains protective antibacterial characteristics.

“We were interested to examine the protein’s structure and characteristics to find out exactly what part of the protein was doing what,” she said.

Image: Using x-ray crystallography, the team discovered a unique structure in the platypus milk protein which, when solved, formed a three dimensional fold, similar to a ringlet. The researchers named this never-before-seen protein the Shirley Temple, in tribute to the former child-actor’s distinctive curly hair. CSIRO

The Team at CSIRO used the Synchrotron and CSIRO’s Collaborative Crystallisation Centre to successfully remake the protein and decipher exactly what was in its structure. What they found was a distinctively different never seen before 3D fold.

The protein fold, which is shaped in ringlets, has been aptly named “Shirley Temple.” According to Dr Newman, the protein fold is very special.

“Although we’ve identified this highly unusual protein as only existing in monotremes, this discovery increases our knowledge of protein structures in general, and will go on to inform other drug discovery work done at the Centre,” she said.

The World Health Organisation, in 2014 release a report that spotlighted the global threat posed by antibiotic resistance, pleading for immediate action.

Platypus milk and the potentially lifesaving protein fold found within it is now being taken to the next phase, to hopefully put a stop to antibiotic resistance.

Lead Image: Lauren Ronin and Larry Dalton

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