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Fields & Applications Mass Spectrometry, Pharma & Biopharma

Here Be Dragons

Komodo dragons have dirty mouths. It’s not that they swear like sailors, but rather that their saliva is teeming with pathogenic bacteria. And though dental hygiene (or lack thereof) is no longer thought to be the only source of its deadly bite (the discovery of venom glands has fueled a little-known debate in reptile research circles...), the monitor lizard does need to be capable of recovering from nasty septic wounds inflicted by competing dragons, which is thought to have led to a particularly robust immune system.

Could dragon’s blood, just like in some legends, be a source of medicine – or, at least, a source of pharmaceutical agents? Potentially yes, according to researchers behind a recent paper (1), who discovered 48 novel potential cationic antimicrobial peptides (CAMPs) with a custom bioprospecting approach. CAMPs play an essential role in the innate immune response, so interest in finding new peptides – and better understanding their role – has ramped up of late because of growing concerns over antimicrobial resistance.

The authors note that previous methods to discover CAMPs from biological samples have been “slow and low-yielding.” So they developed a new one. Specifically, the researchers employed “custom-made microparticle harvesting of intact, functional peptides from biological samples coupled with de novo sequencing of the harvested peptides using ETD mass spectrometry.” Using the approach, the researchers say they have been able to “more effectively leverage the high sensitivity of mass spectrometry and the ability to sequence native peptides based on their MS/MS fragmentation,” comparing their method’s power with more conventional chromatography, electrophoresis and fractionation techniques.

We’re some way off Komodo monitor-derived therapeutics – but, if ever a new pharmaceutical company wishes to target a certain (fantasy-board-game-playing, Game-of-Thrones-watching) subset of the population, “Dragon Drugs Inc” is a sure winner...

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  1. BM Bishop et al., “Discovery of Novel Antimicrobial Peptides from Varanus komodoensis (Komodo dragon) by Large Scale Analyses and De Novo-Assisted Sequencing using Electron Transfer Dissociation Mass Spectrometry’, J Proteome Res, Article ASAP (2017). DOI: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.6b00857
About the Author
Rich Whitworth

Rich Whitworth completed his studies in medical biochemistry at the University of Leicester, UK, in 1998. To cut a long story short, he escaped to Tokyo to spend five years working for the largest English language publisher in Japan. "Carving out a career in the megalopolis that is Tokyo changed my outlook forever. When seeing life through such a kaleidoscopic lens, it's hard not to get truly caught up in the moment." On returning to the UK, after a few false starts with grey, corporate publishers, Rich was snapped up by Texere Publishing, where he spearheaded the editorial development of The Analytical Scientist. "I feel honored to be part of the close-knit team that forged The Analytical Scientist – we've created a very fresh and forward-thinking publication." Rich is now also Content Director of Texere Publishing, the company behind The Analytical Scientist.

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