For thousands of years, Komodo dragons have thrived on an isolated chain of rocky Indonesian islands despite competing with other venomous reptiles, hunting deer and buffalo capable of crushing bone with a single kick and dealing with annual monsoons, tsunamis and drought.

The reason for their success may be that the bite of these giant lizards – they sometimes weigh 300 pounds and grow seven or more feet long – is so poisonous that even a nip can kill. They have more than 50 varieties of bacteria in their mouths yet rarely fall ill.

They’re also immune to the bites of other dragons. Scientists say that’s because the blood of Komodo dragons is filled with proteins called antimicrobial peptides, AMPs, an all-purpose infection defense produced by all living creatures, that one day may be used in drugs to protect humans. That would be a welcome development because some antibiotics are losing their effectiveness as bacteria develop resistance to the drugs.

“Komodo peptides are unlike any others. The animals have bacteria in their mouth in the wild and they live in a challenging environment and they survive,” says Barney Bishop, a George Mason University chemist who co-discovered the unusual characteristics of the peptides in the dragons’ blood in 2013. “If we can find out why they’re able to fight bacteria and what makes them so successful, we can use that knowledge to develop antibiotics.”

Bishop and his team have identified more than 200 peptides in Komodo blood.

There has been at least one major find. One of the dragon peptides was used to design a synthetic substance, called DRGN-1, that breaks down the layer of bacteria that attaches to the surface of a wound and can impede healing. When DRGN-1 was tested on living bacteria and on wounds infected with bacteria, the results were startling: The wounds healed significantly faster than if left untreated.

Microbiologist Monique van Hoek, who worked with Bishop on the project, described DRGN-1 in a George Mason news release last spring as “a new approach to potentially defeat bacteria that have grown resistant to conventional antibiotics.

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