The San Diego Zoo's newest panda cub crawls during his exam. / SAN DIEGO ZOO
(CBS NEWS by Michelle Castillo)--Giant pandas may be the source of a new antibiotic, according to scientists at Nanjing Agricultural University in China.
The Telegraph reported that a compound called cathelicidin-AM found in the giant panda's bloodstream has the ability to kill bacteria and fungi. The naturally-produced antimicrobial was able to kill bacteria in just one hour, compared to typically-used antibiotics which could take up to six hours. It was also shown to be affective against standard and drug-resistant bacteria strains.
The antibiotic may have evolved to help stop infections in giant pandas.
There are just 1,600 giant pandas left in the wild, according to Livescience. Diminishing natural habitat, low reproductive rates and climate change have all lowered the population.
The good news is that the giant panda antimicrobial can be made synthetically in the laboratory. Researchers analyzed the animals' DNA and were able to isolate a small molecule called a peptide.
Lead researcher Dr. Xiuwen Yan, who works at the Life Sciences College of Nanjing Agricultural University in China, told the Telegraph that antibiotic peptides found in genes are less likely to cause drug-resistance. There have been more than 1000 antimicrobial peptides found from animals, plants and microorganism, he added.
The discovery could prove important especially at a time when many officials are warning about the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.
The World Health Organization (WHO)'s director-general Dr. Margaret Chan previously said at a conference in Copenhagen in March 2012 that overuse of antibiotics has become so common that if it continues, something common like a scraped knee or strep throat may become deadly.
Research published by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy (CDDEP) during November 2012 showed that there has been a 30 percent rise in the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes urinary tract infections between 1999 and 2010.
"Under the pressure of increasing microorganisms with drug resistance against conventional antibiotics, there is urgent need to develop new type of antimicrobial agents," Yan said.