Alligator peptides could help soldiers in the field fight infections
Sophisticated germ fighters found in alligator blood may help future soldiers in the field fend off infection, according to new research by George Mason University.
The study, published Feb. 11 in the scientific journal PLOS One, is the result of a fundamental research project supported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) to find bacterial infection-defeating compounds in the blood of the crocodilian family of reptiles, which includes American alligators.
The project is about to start its fourth year and has received $6 million in funding to date from DTRA. If fully funded over five years, the project will be worth $7.57 million.
Alligators live in bacteria-filled environments and dine on carrion. Yet this ancient reptile rarely falls ill.
"If you look at nature, sometimes we can find pre-selected molecules to study," says study co-author Monique van Hoek. "I was surprised to find peptides that were as effective as they are in fighting bacteria. I was really impressed."
Discoveries made by George Mason's 17-member, multidisciplinary research team could eventually find their way to the battlefield to protect warfighters from wound infections and potential exposure to biothreat agents. Researchers believe this work could benefit civilians too.
"We hope that these could be the basis to develop new treatments," says van Hoek, a professor in the School of Systems Biology and the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases at Mason.
Exploiting innate immunity
Van Hoek and lead co-authors Barney Bishop and Joel Schnur from the College of Science suspected the germ-fighting ability could be in the form of antimicrobial peptides. These very small proteins are part of the innate immunity of alligators and even humans; all higher organisms make antimicrobial peptides.
"It's that part of your immune system that keeps you alive in the two or three weeks before you can make antibodies to a bacterial infection," van Hoek says. "It's part of your generalized immune response to the world."
Peptides are more general in their activity than antibodies, which are made to fight infections by specific bacteria or viruses.
"Innate immunity may work less well than antibodies, but it works well enough," van Hoek adds. "The reason why we're so interested in them: they are part of nature's way of dealing with the onslaught of bacteria and viruses that we face every day. Every breath that you take, every thing that you eat, you're constantly exposed to bacteria and your body needs to fend them off in some way."
Alligator blood samples were provided by Kent Vliet of the University of Florida and the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in St. Augustine, Fla., which has a wide variety of reptiles, including all 23 species of crocodilians.
Bishop says he was surprised at the sophistication and diversity of the alligator's germ-fighting peptides. These reptiles have evolved with a formidable defense against bacterial infections.
The Mason team took an innovative approach in its study of the alligator blood samples. Bishop developed custom-made nanoparticles to preferentially capture the peptides out of the very complex mixture of proteins and peptides in alligator plasma.
This process revealed an unexpected result--the identified potent germ-fighting peptides were only fragments of larger "parent" proteins, says Bishop, who's also a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.
The custom-made particles used in this project significantly shortened the number of steps required to capture and identify peptides that were present in alligator blood plasma.
The Mason team has other reptiles to tackle. As part of the DTRA grant called "Translational Peptide for Personal Protection," Mason researchers also will study Siamese crocodiles, Nile crocodiles and gharials.
And they've learned a thing or two along the way about these ancient reptiles.
"You stay away from the business end," Bishop jokes.
The paper, Bioprospecting the American Alligator Host Defense Peptidome, is on the PLOS One website. http://journals.
About George Mason University
George Mason is Virginia's largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls nearly 34,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the last half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. http://www.
Michele McDonald | EurekAlert!
The genes are not to blame
20.07.2018 | Technische Universität München
Targeting headaches and tumors with nano-submarines
20.07.2018 | Universitätsmedizin der Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.
The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...
For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.
To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...
For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.
Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...
Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.
A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...
Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.
"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....
13.07.2018 | Event News
12.07.2018 | Event News
03.07.2018 | Event News
20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering
20.07.2018 | Information Technology
20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences