Australian scientists have discovered that the little wallaby could hold the key to a potent bacteria killer. If you haven’t seen one of these creatures, they’re quite unique — they’re like mini versions of kangaroos. They can be found in South and Southwestern Australia, and in the islands off of the country’s coast; they were even transplanted to New Zealand.
Once thought to be almost extinct, the little guys are starting to come back in full force. They like to live in the scrub or semi-desert and they eat vegetation only. The particular type of wallaby we’re talking about here is the “Tammar wallaby” (Macropus eugenii), the smallest of the bunch. On average, it’s only 18″ long (not including its tail).
The wallaby is a marsupial, like its better known cousin, the kangaroo. What makes this class of mammals unique is the way they gestate their young. When it is born, a baby wallaby is not finished its development, only weighing about 0.01 ounces. At this point, the newborn has a heart, but no lungs, and has absolutely no immune system, which makes it extremely vulnerable. Right after birth, the baby crawls into its mother’s pouch, where it grows and develops while feeding on the mother wallaby’s milk.
It is this developmental stage of a baby wallaby that has captured scientists’ interest and fuelled the latest findings. They wanted to know how the newborn wallaby, without an immune system of its own, managed to build up an immunity to bacteria during its time in the pouch.
Scientists from the Victoria Department of Primary Industries discovered that the female wallaby’s milk contains the key to this intriguing protection. What exactly did they find in the milk that other mammals, including humans, don’t seem to have? They call it “AGG01.” It’s a compound that can fight off a great range of bacteria and fungi, including certain lethal superbugs that have become resistant to antibiotics.
The Tammar wallaby’s breast milk was tested and found to be effective against several different bacteria, including golden staph (staphylococcus aureus), e-coli, streptoccocci, salmonella, bacillus subtilis, pseudomonas spp., and proteus vulgaris. In fact, the researchers found that AGG01 was 100 times (yes, that’s 100) more effective than good old penicillin at killing superbugs such as e-coli. Amazing!
The reason that this discovery is so important is that due to our overuse of antibiotics, many bacteria are now becoming superbugs, which means they can no longer be fought as effectively with the antibiotic standards. So, we need new alternatives — and nature usually provides us with the best options.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll be finding wallaby milk in the cooler at your local drug store, however. The next step in the process of creating a new antibiotic would be to synthesize the compound into a drug. Once that’s done, testing on humans can begin. So, let’s hope that we soon see this powerful, new bacteria-fighting substance in hospitals and drugstores in the near future!