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Do sloths carry future antibiotics?


Scientist Max Chavarria proved during his research work, which he began in the year 2020, that what was discovered was “microorganisms capable of producing antibiotics that regulate the presence of pathogens in sloth fur.”

A researcher seeks to discover new antibiotics in Costa Rica by studying the bacteria found in the dander of sloths, after noticing that these tropical mammals never get sick. Max Chavarria of the University of Costa Rica points out that sloths have a unique bio-environment of insects, algae and bacteria that is believed to protect them.

“If someone studies sloth dander, they will see movement of mites and different types of insects. This dander is a very wide habitat, and when many types of organisms live in a place, there should be a system that controls them,” he told AFP.

During his research work, which he began in 2020, the scientist confirmed that what was discovered was “microorganisms capable of producing antibiotics that regulate the presence of pathogens in sloth fur.” Chavarria, who published the results of his study in the journal “Environmental Microbialgia,” confirmed that “these bacteria belong to the two types of Rothia and Brevibacterium.”

The issue is whether in the future these antibiotics will be allowed to be used as medicines for humans.

The sloths that Costa Rica includes, two species of which are the pale-throated sloths and the Hoffmani sloths, live above the trees of tropical forests in Central America, specifically on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, in a humid climate with temperatures ranging between 22 and 30 degrees Celsius.

The numbers of these animals, which are also found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, are “declining”, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In Costa Rica, American Judy Ivey runs the Cahuita Sloth Sanctuary, which she founded with her late husband, Luis Arroyo. The sanctuary receives injured animals and provides them with care.

Save a thousand sloths

Judy was living in Alaska and was unaware of the existence of these animals until she arrived in Costa Rica.

In 1992, the couple welcomed their first sloth and provided it with a treat. Since then, their sanctuary on the Caribbean coast, about 200 kilometers from San Jose, has welcomed about 1,000 sloths.

It was obvious that Max Chavarria would turn to Judy Ivey to study sloths that were being cared for after being electrocuted on high-tension wires, being hit or injured by a dog attack, or that were separated from their mothers when they were young.

“We have never received a sick sloth, and some of the animals we embraced were exposed to burns as a result of electric shock and their hands were injured, but none of the animals had a disease,” says Judy.

Max Chavarria clipped the hair of 15 monkeys belonging to both species and subjected them to study in a laboratory.

production of antibiotics

After three years of research work, the world has counted about twenty “candidates” for the production of antibiotics, but full research is still required to find out the potential for their use in humans. “First we have to understand the immune system of sloths, and what molecules contribute to enhancing their immunity,” the researcher says.

He considers that nature is the first laboratory in which research is supposed to be conducted, referring to penicillin, which was discovered in 1982 by British Nobel Prize winner Alexander Fleming from fungi that naturally manufacture this antibiotic.

The discovery of new antibiotics is crucial because the World Health Organization warns that resistance to existing antibiotics could cause ten million deaths annually by the middle of the century.

“For this reason, projects such as ours can contribute to the discovery of new molecules that may be used in the medium or long term in the issue of antibiotic resistance,” says Max Chavarria.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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