Researchers have shown that Alligator blood serum kills the human diseases of HIV, Herpes and MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) ! How can this be?
When American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) fight, it’s not uncommon for one or both combatants to lose a piece of anatomy, and yet, there is no infection and they go on to recover and live a long life. So I asked myself ……….. why don’t they get life-threatening infections?
Alligators are known for their dedication to the establishment and defense of individual territory. Choice lairs within suitable habitat eventually belong to the biggest and most ferocious individual among them. Alligators depend on water for everything…including escape cover. Literally, an alligator’s life depends on water in every way. But there are two situations in which an alligator will leave the security of its watery lair: During the Spring, sexually mature males will leave their lairs in search of a mate. And during severe drought, very desperate alligators will leave their drying lairs in search of the security that they can only experience with sufficient water.
A traveling gator’s territory moves with it and ownership of any particular piece of “real estate” is dependent upon the size and probably ferocity of the individual alligator. To remain alive, smaller alligators must be willing to quickly get out of the way of any large alligator that may come near, lest they quickly become crushed in the huge jaws and swallowed. I remember watching a young alligator being chased around a drying Everglades pond by a much larger alligator. The chase continued, off and on, with the smaller one being faster and more buoyant on the mucky surface. Sure it looked like a game. But if the larger gator caught the smaller one…..it would kill and eat it.
When two adult alligators do resort to fighting…….from the very outset of the conflict……both are in it for “keeps”. If you spend a few years in the Everglades you begin seeing living, functioning, severely disfigured gators……animals with healed areas where a large piece of the tail, a section of jaw…..or an entire leg was torn off. It happened in a fight with another gator. SCENARIO: An alligator clamps down onto another’s leg, goes into its “death roll”, and simply twists off the opponent’s entire leg. Don’t ask me how the blood can coagulate in such a gaping wound. Who knows, maybe alligator blood coagulation will be the subject of a future story on the extraordinary benefits gained from an evolution of 200 million years.
So, what about this infection question? The waters these beasts thrive in are very often a tepid to warm gumbo of rotting detritus to fecal material, exploding with all manner of microbes. How do they avoid life-threatening infections?
It is only common sense that with such a large gaping wound, without continuous medical attention, you or I could not possibly avoid a life-threatening infection under those conditions.
So it was years ago that I wondered why it as to why it is that these gladiators don’t become mortally infected more often. I continue to suspect that these surviving “dinosaurs”, these relics of evolutionary time, have developed still undiscovered adaptations. What about the blood coagulation after a loss of limb? I should have begun suspecting that alligators must be the keepers of a great and “so-far undiscovered” secret. I should have realized that over the 10’s of millions of years of their evolution crocodilians developed an immune system that now appears to be unapproached by any other heretofore discovered in the Kingdom Animalia.
And that is just what science is rapidly unfolding the secrets of.
One leader in this research has been Mark Merchant (PhD.), a McNeese State University researcher (Louisiana, USA). In an article in Australia’s science periodical Cosmos author Anna Canale-Parola thoroughly explained in layman’s terms the significance of Merchant’s and his American and Australian associate’s research:
They’ve already demonstrated that Alligator blood serum destroys human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the Herpes simplex virus, fights fungal diseases such as the Canida albicans yeast infection….and kills the scourge of hospitals, the bacterium MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus)! In short, Alligators have an immune system far superior to that inside humans.
Researcher Merchant collaborates with crocodile researcher Adam Britton at Big Gecko, Darwin, Australia, to confirm the suspected: in their super-long lineage other crocodilians developed immune systems similar to the American Alligator’s.
“There are very clear human medical benefits that can come out of this research,” Britton said. “It underscores the value of speculative research into the biology and physiology of animals that have spent millions of years getting things right – in this case, their immune system.” And in the Alligator’s case, it has had 200 million years of evolution to get it right.
The bottom line is that these scientists confidently predict that in the near years there will be available a topical ointment (at least at first) for human use, derived from alligator serum.
Suddenly, the American alligator emerges as a creature highly beneficial to man. And now, it is looked upon differently. But can this translate to a greater assurance that its remaining natural Everglades environment will be preserved?
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Reference related to immune system:
Merchant M, C Roche, RM Elsey, J Prudhomme (2003) Antibacterial properties of serum from the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part B 136:505-513