A breakthrough by Australian scientists has brought the introduction of an unlikely hero in the global fight against antibiotic resistance a step closer; the humble platypus.

[Music plays as the camera pans over lush foliage that is running alongside a flowing river]

[Image changes to show a female with a platypus draped over each arm. Text appears: In 2010 scientists discovered that platypus milk contains unique antibacterial properties that could be used to fight superbugs.]

[Image changes to show a female with half her body submerged in water, a platypus runs along her arms and falls into the water]

[Image changes to show the platypus swimming in the water]

[Image changes to show an outside shot of a CSIRO facility. Text appears: Now, a team of our researchers, working with Deakin University have brought platypus milk one step closer to being used to save lives.]

[Image changes to show a male working inside a laboratory type setting, placing a small tray inside a piece of scientific equipment]

[Image changes to show data on a computer monitor. Text appears: Using the marvel of molecular biology, we have made platypus milk protein in the lab and examined its structure & characteristics.]

[Image changes back to show a platypus swimming in a body of water. Text appears: The platypus belongs to the monotreme family, a small group of mammals that lay eggs and produce milk for their young.]

[Image changes back to show the female with half her body submerged in water and a platypus crawling on her back. Text appears: They are such weird animals that it makes sense for them to have weird biochemistry.]

[Image changes to show a computer generated picture of a protein molecule. Text appears: Working in our Collaborative Crystallisation Centre we discovered a unique ringlet-like structure in the protein.]

[Image changes to show a photo of Shirley Temple. Text appears: We named this never-before-seen structure the “Shirley Temple” fold after the child actor’s ringlets.]

[Image changes back to show the computer generated picture of a protein molecule. Text appears: This is the first time a protein structure like this has been found identifying monotremes as a source of novel proteins.]

[Image changes back to show a man in a laboratory type setting, viewing something through a microscope. Text appears: The discovery increases our knowledge of protein structures in general and will inform other drug discovery work done at the Centre]

[Image changes to show a scientific sample processor in action. Text appears: potentially paving the way for this protein’s use in antibacterial dressings and topical creams to treat infections.]

[Image changes to show the same male removing samples and placing them on a table. Text appears: Our Collaborative Crystallisation Centre (C3) is one of the best facilities of its kind in the world with expertise in drug discovery and bio-industry applications.]

[Image changes to show the camera panning over bottled samples on shelves]

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears on screen with text: Australia’s innovation catalyst]

[Credits appear in the top left of screen: Thanks to Zoos Victoria for Platypus footage]

Saving Lives with Platypus Milk :  A breakthrough by Australian scientists has brought the introduction of an unlikely hero in the global fight against antibiotic resistance a step closer; the humble platypus.

Additional Resources

Due to its unique features - duck-billed, egg-laying, beaver-tailed and venomous- the platypus has long exerted a powerful appeal to scientists, making it an important subject in the study of evolutionary biology.

In 2010 scientists discovered that platypus milk contained unique antibacterial properties that could be used to fight superbugs.

Now a team of researchers at CSIRO working with Deakin University have solved a puzzle that helps explain why platypus milk is so potent - bringing it one step closer to being used to save lives.

The discovery was made by replicating a special protein contained in platypus milk in a laboratory setting.

"Platypus are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry," CSIRO scientist and lead author on the research published in Structural Biology Communications , Dr Janet Newman said.

"The platypus belongs to the monotreme family, a small group of mammals that lay eggs and produce milk to feed their young. By taking a closer look at their milk, we’ve characterised a new protein that has unique antibacterial properties with the potential to save lives."

As platypus don't have teats, they express milk onto their belly for the young to suckle, exposing the mother’s highly nutritious milk to the environment, leaving babies susceptible to the perils of bacteria.

Deakin University’s Dr Julie Sharp said researchers believed this was why the platypus milk contained a protein with rather unusual and protective antibacterial characteristics.

"We were interested to examine the protein’s structure and characteristics to find out exactly what part of the protein was doing what," she said.

Employing the marvels of molecular biology, the Synchrotron, and CSIRO's state of the art Collaborative Crystallisation Centre (C3), the team successfully made the protein, then deciphered its structure to get a better look at it.

What they found was a unique, never-before-seen 3D fold.

Due to its ringlet-like formation, the researchers have dubbed the newly discovered protein fold the ‘Shirley Temple’, in tribute to the former child-actor’s distinctive curly hair.

Dr Newman said finding the new protein fold was pretty special.

"Although we’ve identified this highly unusual protein as only existing in monotremes, this discovery increases our knowledge of protein structures in general, and will go on to inform other drug discovery work done at the Centre," she said.

In 2014 the World Health Organisation released a report highlighting the scale of the global threat posed by antibiotic resistance, pleading for urgent action to avoid a "post-antibiotic era", where common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.

The team of scientists at CSIRO and Deakin are seeking collaborators to take the potentially life-saving platypus research to the next stage.

Background

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria that were once responsive to antimicrobial treatments like antibiotics build up a resistance and then pass that resistance on to their next generation. This leads to ineffective treatments and more persistent infections, caused by these resistant 'Superbugs'.

Hear our news first

Want to hear our news as it happens, and be the first to see our most exciting stories? Subscribing to our news releases and newsletters including Snapshot will give you the latest info.

Images

  • Graphic showing the The Shirley Temple protein.

    The Shirley Temple protein -this is the first time a protein structure with such a fold has found, highlighting some of the unusual evolutionary characteristics of monotremes and identifying them as a source of novel proteins.

    Download image
  • Platypus sitting on a rock.

     ©Laura Romin & Larry Dalton

    Download image

News release contact

Ali Green

Communication Advisor

Contact us

 
Your contact details

First name must be filled in

We'll need to know what you want to contact us about so we can give you an answer.