Costa Rican sloth fur appears to harbor antibiotic-producing bacteria that scientists hope will be a solution to the growing problem of “superbugs” that are resistant to humanity’s dwindling arsenal of drugs.
Research has found that sloth fur hosts bustling communities of insects, algae, fungi, and bacteria, among other microbes, some of which may pose a disease risk.
However, experts say, the famously slow-moving mammal appears to be surprisingly resistant to infection.
“If you look at the sloth’s fur, you see movement, you see different insects, a very large habitat,” Max Chavarria, a researcher at the University of Costa Rica, told AFP.
“It is clear that when there is coexistence of many types of organisms, there must be systems that control them,” he said.
Chavarria and his team took fur samples from two-toed and three-toed Costa Rican sloths to examine what this control system might be like.
They found the possibility of antibiotic-producing bacteria that “make it possible to control the spread of disease-causing bacteria … or discourage other competitors” such as fungi, according to a study published in the journal Nature. Environmental Microbiology.
A national symbol of Costa Rica, the sloth is a major tourist attraction for the Central American country.
Both two-toed (Choloepus Hoffmanni) and three-toed (Bradypus variegatus) sloths have seen their numbers decline, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red Threatened Species.
They live in the canopies of trees in the jungle on the Caribbean coast, where the climate is hot and humid.
American Judy Avey runs a sanctuary in the temperate forest to care for sloths injured after contact with humans or other animals.
It treats and rehabilitates living organisms with the goal of releasing them back into the wild.
“We have never received a sloth that is sick or has disease or disease,” she told AFP.
“We’ve had sloths that have been burned by power lines and had their entire arm destroyed… no infection.
“I think maybe in 30 years (we’ve been open), we’ve seen five animals that came in with a contaminated infestation. That tells us there’s something going on in their … ecosystem.”
Avi, who set up the shelter with her late Costa Rican husband Luis Arroyo, had never heard of the sloth back home in Alaska.
Since she got her first sloth, which she called Buttercup, in 1992, she has cared for about 1,000 animals.
Researcher Chavarria took fur samples from the sanctuary’s sloths for examination in his laboratory.
His research began in 2020, and has already identified 20 “candidate” microorganisms waiting to be named.
But he said we have a long way to go to determine whether sloth compounds are beneficial to humans.
“Before considering an application in human health, it’s important to first understand…the type of molecules involved,” said Chavarria.
An example is penicillin, discovered in 1928 by British scientist Alexander Fleming, who discovered that fungal contamination of a laboratory culture appeared to kill disease-causing bacteria.
His discovery of the world’s first bacteria-killing antibiotic earned him the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1945.
However, antimicrobial resistance has been a growing problem, which means that some drugs no longer work against the infections they were designed to treat.
Antimicrobial resistance is a natural phenomenon, but the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in humans, animals, and plants has exacerbated the problem.
The World Health Organization estimates that by 2050, antibiotic resistance could kill 10 million people annually.
“Projects like ours can contribute to finding … new molecules that, in the medium or long term, can be used in this fight against antibiotic resistance,” said Chavarria.
Diego Rojas‐Gätjens et al, Micrococcal-producing antibiotics control the microbiome inhabiting the fur of three-toed sloths, Environmental Microbiology (2022). DOI: 10.1111/1462-2920.16082 . on puresafe: www.biorxiv.org/content/10.110….04.08.486316v2.full
© 2023 AFP
the quote: Costa Rican Antibiotics Offer Hope for Human Medicine (2023, May 1) Retrieved May 1, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-05-costa-rican-sloth-antibiotics-human.html
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