Free Press Journal

A Dragon’s blood that may heal your wounds


Inspired by germ-fighting abilities of the Komodo dragon, scientists have developed a new way to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria while spurring the body’s cells to heal cuts faster. Komodo dragons live in bacteria-rich environments but rarely fall ill, suggesting they have strong innate immunity. “Synthetic germ-fighter peptides are a new approach to potentially defeat bacteria that have grown resistant to conventional antibiotics,” said microbiologist Monique van Hoek from George Mason University in the US.

“The antimicrobial peptides we are tapping into represent millions of years of evolution in protecting immune systems from dangerous infections,” said van Hoek. The inspiration for the synthetic germ-fighter called “DRGN-1” came from a peptide first found in a Komodo dragon named Tujah, who lives at the St Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in Florida.

After creating a new tool and technique to find and sort through hundreds of peptides in Tujah’s blood, the team discovered one that showed a promising combination of antimicrobial and anti-biofilm properties.
Peptides are small protein-like molecules, and some act at the forefront of our body’s innate immune system. They are the molecules battling infections until antibodies are made. The researchers found more than 200 Komodo dragon peptides, and it was one of these peptides that provided the inspiration for DGRN-1.

The research team, including professor Barney Bishop from George Mason University, rearranged the peptide’s tiny building blocks, called amino acids, to create a modified, synthetic version of the dragon’s peptide, calling it “DRGN-1” in honour of the Komodo dragon.

This synthetic peptide is the first Komodo-inspired peptide the team created in the lab from this research, van Hoek said. “The synthesised peptide DRGN-1 is not a Komodo dragon’s natural peptide; it has been altered to be stronger in terms of both potency and stability,” van Hoek said.

DRGN-1 is able to attack the sticky biofilm that protects the bacteria and helps them grow in wounds.
After breaking down the biofilm barrier, the synthetic peptide kills the bacteria while simultaneously stimulating the patient’s cells to speed up healing the wound. “The next steps for DRGN-1 are to develop it into wound- healing products for veterinary medicine before moving to products designed for humans,” Bishop said.