If you thought dragons existed only in the domain of historical fantasy fiction like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, think again. Dragons are real and their blood just may be our biggest hope when it comes to tomorrow's antibiotics.
Dragons Are Real
The largest of any earthly lizard, Komodo dragons walk the earth to this day. They’re not only real, but they’re also much like their larger, fictional counterparts, fit with scaly exteriors, deadly teeth, and razor-sharp claws.
Primarily found in five islands off the southeast coast of Indonesia (Komodo, Rinca, Gili Montang, Gili Dasami and Flores), adult male Komodo dragons can grow up to 10 feet long and weigh up to 330 pounds. Some even live up to 30 years, and the species is believed to have inhabited this region for millions of years.
The top of their geographic food chain, these dragons eat just about anything—including snakes, birds, and even larger mammals like pigs and deer. In fact, they can eat up to 80 percent of their body weight in one meal.
For anything they don't immediately disarm or kill with their powerful teeth and claws, the Komodo dragon has another trick to play—venom. The venom glands in their mouth can cause shock, induce bleeding, and prevent clotting, and Komodo dragons are great at waiting patiently until the toxins take hold.
But just because they're not as large or menacing as the ones belonging to Khaleesi, Mother of Dragons, doesn't mean they lack an ounce of power.
Dr. Monique Van Hoek and her research partner Dr. Barney Bishop are trying to unlock that power.
Using Dragon Blood for Bacterial Infections
While their work with dragons has nothing to do with the mythological war in Westeros, Dr. Hoek and Dr. Bishop are on the frontlines of the very real war against antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
They're studying the robust immune systems of Komodo dragons and believe the animal's unique blood might just hold the secret to combating resilient bacterial infections.
That's important because science has identified 12 superbugs that are resistant to all known antibiotics. And since new antibiotics are being created at a slowing rate, some worry that we'll eventually run out of ways to fight infection.
The anti-microbial peptides they found in Komodo dragons, however, easily passed the initial gating tests by killing staphylococcus and pseudomonas, as well as preventing the production of biofilm, or bacteria colonies that protect against antibiotics.
Dr. Barney Bishop’s Vision for the Dragon Immune System
The idea to look at the Komodo dragon first came from Dr. Bishop, who thought that their robust immune systems were a good starting place to start looking for helpful peptides.
In his work, he even went so far as to design special particles to extract the peptides for testing, which he then passed over to his colleague, Dr. Hoek, for a closer look.
The Real Mother of Dragons, Dr. Monique Van Hoek
Upon receiving the peptides extracted by Dr. Bishop, Dr. Hoek ran them through a complicated gating process, which would help her identify the peptides worthy of further study.
Only one emerged, which was used as the basis of a synthetic peptide that they named DRGN-1 in honor of its powerful origin: the Komodo dragon.
So, are dragons real? In a word: Yes! And dragon's blood just may be our biggest hope when it comes to tomorrow's antibiotics.
It's a good reminder that while science isn’t magic, it can lead to truly amazing results.