EVERGLADES: updated article…Alligator Immune System far Superior to that in Humans.

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.  On another occasion, while returning to the Holiday Park ramp with my airboat, I suddenly cut the throttle in some water lettuce along the edge of the east boundary of the Everglades.  A couple hundred feet to my left was the canal and on the other side of that was Coconut Grove.   At a considerable distance in front of me I saw an unusual commotion.  Next, a huge alligator (a good 12-footer!) thrust its body out of the water!  It had a 2-foot-long alligator in its jaws, which it simply crushed, pointed its huge head to the sky and with gravity, swallowed it ……..in one gulp!  

But when two similarly sized adult alligators do resort to fighting…….from the very outset of the conflict…… they are not bluffing and they get right down to serious business.    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.

200 MILLION YEARS?   If you DO accept what paleontologists have shown in their fossil record to be true, then you also should know that among all taxa in the Kingdom Animalia, the Order Crocodilia is blessed with one of the longest evolutions. Who knows, maybe one day it will be shown that science’s use of radiometric dating to age these unimaginably old fossils, was inaccurate.  But they are still likely to be correct regarding the chronological order of the evolutions of various taxa.  Crocodilians have had one of the loooooooongest times to adapt to their environment. 

Of all the extant creatures, Crocodilians are one of the most fascinating, at least because of how long they have been able to hang around and improve their game.     

THEN WHY ARE CROCODILIANS SO ANCIENT LOOKING?  Some theorized that the reason the outward appearance of crocodilians has changed so little from what they looked like……..say…… over 100 million years ago……is simply because they haven’t had to!  In my own words………

Could it be that this is exactly what a large, super-efficient, amphibious, reptilian predator looks like …….. after having made all of the physical changes required to fit with perfection into its amphibious niche?   

I suspect so!  I am a lifelong naturalist who has had a continual, and ever-deepening curiosity into the relationships between organisms and their environment.   I do believe that their theory is quite likely to be fact.   It is just in the last several years that scientists have discovered more secrets to the crocodilian body.   They will discover even more in the future.  Again, how is it that alligators do not hemorrhage to death after a limb is twisted off?

And one expert labelled crocodilians “degenerate survivors of the Triassic archusaurians”.  I want to say that that person is Wilfred T. Neill, author of The Last of the Ruling Reptiles. Alligators, Crocodiles, and Their Kin.   Degenerate survivors?  Huh?  What does he mean?  Well, the excitement in this is the word “degenerate”.  He is referring to the fact that in croc lineage, there was a split (about 200 million years ago) after crocs evolved out of the water and onto the land……. eventually standing up….becoming bipedal.  But one half of that split, eventually went back to the water (and they know not why) while the other stayed on land.

Ironically and amazingly, the ones that “degenerated” back to the water, survived the Cretaceous extermination and they live today!

The ones that stayed on land, met with extinction, along with the other dinosaurs.  And by the way, 99% of all species that have lived on Planet Earth, are now extinct.   Can you believe it?  On this violent planet, extinction has been the norm.  Most consider that the human-induded extinctions that we are in the midst of now……are not normal.   But this is not the place to discuss it.  Later maybe, in a book.

WHAT!….WITH ALL THIS EVOLUTION….THERE IS NO ROOM FOR CREATION?  Hold on a minute!   Although current evidence leaves no doubt that these animal relics once existed a very long time ago, it does nothing toward disproving that the Universe was Created. We are still a long, long way from knowing the truths of cosmology and the origins of existence; i.e. just for starters…..where did the original Matter come from in the Big Bang?  If the Universe is expanding (as they tell us it is), what is in front of that expanding frontier?  We have to remember that nobody with any credentials has shown ANY evidence to challenge the fact that the Universe was created by an entity that is far beyond our ability to comprehend it.  Why not believe it?  And Eben Alexander M.D., author of Proof of Heaven, a Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, wrote that when he was “up there”, he was told by God, through an interpreter, that there are MANY Universes.  Now how about that?  I chose to believe him.

OK, BACK TO THE 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?  Well, they obviously have developed perhaps the best immune system in the Animal Kingdom.

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 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 Mr. Mark Merchant (PhD.), a McNeese State University researcher (Louisiana, USA).  He grew up with gators and asked the same questions I did.  But he took his curiosity some steps further by combining in a petri dish,  some nasty diseases and alligator blood.  The rest is becoming medical history.   In an article in Australia’s science periodical Cosmos, author Anna Canale-Parola thoroughly explained in layman’s terms the significance of Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

After all that, I still have not attempted to explain how it might be that crocodilians came to possess this amazing immune system they have.

NATURAL SELECTION!…….is a theoretical process first described by Charles Darwin. Here is the definition: The process in nature by which, according to Darwin’s theory of evolution, only the organisms best adapted to their environment tend to survive and transmit their genetic characteristics in increasing numbers to succeeding generations while those less adapted tend to be eliminated.   Charles Darwin was a very smart man.

Genetic mutations naturally occur in nature. But few survive. But what if by chance, an individual is born with a mutation that actually makes it easier for that individual to function within its environment?  Don’t you think the individual is more likely to survive and pass on its genes?  Now I do agree that this is all theory but it does make sense, especially when you consider that species do change.  And since crocodilians apparently had their start about 200 millions ago…….do you think there has been ample opportunity for these beasts to become vastly improved…..just through Natural Selection?

Suddenly, the American alligator emerges as a creature highly beneficial to man. And now, it is looked upon differently……….or should be.   Will this translate to a greater assurance that its remaining natural Everglades environment will be preserved? Or will the alligator be looked upon as a lab animal, and the Everglades continue to be abused.       The Everglades will continue to be abused.  You cannot have that many people (and growing!) in such close proximity to nature, without having a constant negative impact.  No way!  Things said to the contrary are most often bullshit!   Aren’t you tired of listening to politicians tell you how good it is, when you can see evidence to the opposite?

Hope you liked the article.

Robert King

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SUGGESTED READINGS:

1.    Some understanding of crocodilian evolution, in layman’s terms.   http://dinosaurs.about.com/od/typesofdinosaurs/a/crocodilians.htm

2.    An article in Australia’s Cosmos Magazine…… titled Potent HIV Killer Found in Alligator Blood.   http://www.cosmosmagazine.com/news/potent-hiv-killer-found-alligator-blood/

3.    Dating dinosaur fossils, explained in layman’s terms:  http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geology/dinosaur-bone-age.htm

4.    Technical article on the CROCODILIAN 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

5.   On radiometric dating:     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radiometric_dating