Dragon's blood

A mouthful of promise.  Image courtesy of Stafseng Einarsen.

A mouthful of promise.

Image courtesy of Stafseng Einarsen.

In his desperate search to magically extend his life, Qin Shi Huang sought out dragon's blood in the belief that if he could drink some, he would become immune to the illnesses of old age. Remarkably, a new study is now revealing that the blood of dragons truly does have the potential to cure disease.    

Komodo dragons are mildly venomous but they also wield numerous pathogenic bacteria in their saliva. One bite is enough to trigger septic shock within hours in the large mammals that they eat. Thus, a common hunting tactic used by these predators is to bite a deer, back away and then slowly stalk the wounded animal until it falls. This intriguing strategy has raised questions over how the dragons survive with so many pathogenic species in their mouths - especially since dragons routinely bite one another during fights over territory and do not succumb to sepsis themselves. Now a new examination of their blood is revealing that they carry an armada of unique proteins that shield them from infection. 

The team behind the new work identified forty-eight novel antimicrobial proteins. They then ran eight of the most promising looking ones through a series of bacterial exposure tests and found that seven showed serious potency against particularly menacing strains. Dragons appear to be born with the power to resist the very pathogens that they wield and, with a bit of work, it seems likely that we can wield this power too. You can read more in The Economist article that I wrote on this here.