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As if they weren't already badass, crocodiles have "super-immunity" to infection

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MrOogieBoogie

BioShock Infinite is like playing some homeless guy's vivid imagination
Aug 11, 2010
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Which explains scenarios like this one.

I've always wondered how crocodiles can swim around in dirty-ass water with battle wounds and missing limbs and shit and survive, and apparently it's because of their amazing natural immune response.

Scientists in Australia's tropical north are collecting blood from crocodiles in the hope of developing a powerful antibiotic for humans, after tests showed that the reptile's immune system kills the HIV virus.

The crocodile's immune system is much more powerful than that of humans, preventing life-threatening infections after savage territorial fights which often leave the animals with gaping wounds and missing limbs.

"They tear limbs off each other and despite the fact that they live in this environment with all these microbes, they heal up very rapidly and normally, almost always without infection," said Mark Merchant, an American scientist who has been taking crocodile blood samples in the Northern Territory.

Initial studies of the crocodile immune system in 1998 found that several proteins (antibodies) in the reptile's blood killed bacteria that were resistant to penicillin, such as Staphylococcus aureus or golden staph, Australian scientist Adam Britton told Reuters on Tuesday. It was also a more powerful killer of the HIV virus than the human immune system.

"If you take a test tube of HIV and add crocodile serum it will have a greater effect than human serum. It can kill a much greater number of HIV viral organisms," Britton said from Darwin's Crocodylus Park, a tourism park and research center.


Britton said the crocodile immune system worked differently from the human system by directly attacking bacteria immediately an infection occurred in the body.

"The crocodile has an immune system which attaches to bacteria and tears it apart and it explodes. It's like putting a gun to the head of the bacteria and pulling the trigger," he said.

For the past 10 days Britton and Merchant have been carefully collecting blood from wild and captive crocodiles, both saltwater and freshwater species. After capturing a crocodile and strapping its powerful jaws closed the scientists extract blood from a large vein behind the head.

"It's called a sinus, right behind the head, and it's very easy just to put a needle in the back of the neck and hit this sinus and then you can take a large volume of blood very simply," said Britton.

The scientists hope to collect enough crocodile blood to isolate the powerful antibodies and eventually develop an antibiotic for use by humans.

"We may be able to have antibiotics that you take orally," Merchant said. " Potentially also antibiotics that you could run topically on wounds, say diabetic ulcer wounds. Burn patients often have their skin infected and things like that."

However, the crocodile's immune system may be too powerful for humans and may need to be synthesized for human consumption.

"There is a lot of work to be done," Britton said. "It may take years before we can get to the stage where we have something to market."


Old article/news, but new to me. I find the crocodile a fascinating creature. I think we take for granted just how unique it is because we're so exposed to it. But it really sounds like some kind of advanced species you might read about in a fantasy book: it's got armor skin, stomach acid that can dissolve bones, ability to grow to enormous sizes, lifespans longer than humans, an incredible immune system, longevity that traces back to dinosaurs, the ability to survive on eating only a few times a year...

Apex fucking predator, man. I wonder what their pain threshold is, and to what extent they feel pain. In the GIF above, the victim seems unperturbed.

The only virus that seems to really affect them is fucking herpes. Herpes the MVP of the infection world?
 
Jul 3, 2008
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You don't get to survive for hundreds of millions of years almost completely unchanged without a rockin' immune system.
 
Oct 29, 2014
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Are we sure we wanna mix reptile and human DNA? Because I know a guy in New York who learned the hard way about what happens when you do so...and it isn't pretty.

 

RocknRola

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Jul 9, 2016
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Makes sense when you consider their size and the fact that they have been here since forever ago (not literally, but you get the point). Evolution definitely served them well!
 

boiled goose

good with gravy
Oct 30, 2007
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and humans like to think we are the 'pinnacle' of evolution.

We are just good at thinking and sweating.
 

BorkBork

The Legend of BorkBork: BorkBorkity Borking
Oct 11, 2004
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"The crocodile has an immune system which attaches to bacteria and tears it apart and it explodes. It's like putting a gun to the head of the bacteria and pulling the trigger," he said.

I love this description.
 

demon

I don't mean to alarm you but you have dogs on your face
Jun 8, 2004
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and humans like to think we are the 'pinnacle' of evolution.

We are just good at thinking and sweating.

Ain't no crocodiles walk on the moon or built a particle accelerator. We've transcended the need for stupid evolution. Also physically we're not slouches either; IIRC we're some of the very best long-distance runners in the animal kingdom.
 

Greddleok

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Mar 13, 2015
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Someone who's more knowledgable about infection and immunity than me, can you explain how it's possible that antibodies can directly kill bacteria?

I thought that antibodies were just molecular flags, which highlighted pathogens or other things for the immune cells to engulf. If the croc antibodies are active themselves, surely they must be completely different to ours, to the point that they're not really "antibodies" per se.
 

eyeball_kid

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If the injection of viral DNA into a host is a cause of genetic mutation and thus evolution over time, then this could explain in part why crocodiles (and sharks?) have basically remained unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs.
 

tuna_love

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Oct 28, 2013
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Someone who's more knowledgable about infection and immunity than me, can you explain how it's possible that antibodies can directly kill bacteria?

I thought that antibodies were just molecular flags, which highlighted pathogens or other things for the immune cells to engulf. If the croc antibodies are active themselves, surely they must be completely different to ours, to the point that they're not really "antibodies" per se.
easiest way i can explain it is they put a gun to bacterias head and pull the trigger
 

demon

I don't mean to alarm you but you have dogs on your face
Jun 8, 2004
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Watch the Hunt on Netflix. Breathtaking videos of animals. The croc there looked vicious.

The only thing I see on Netflix called "The Hunt" is a movie with Mads Mikkelsen.
 
Apr 10, 2007
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I'm more interested in the science of how they can exactly replicate this to be injected/ingested/applied topically on humans and still work.
 

Syncytia

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Someone who's more knowledgable about infection and immunity than me, can you explain how it's possible that antibodies can directly kill bacteria?

I thought that antibodies were just molecular flags, which highlighted pathogens or other things for the immune cells to engulf. If the croc antibodies are active themselves, surely they must be completely different to ours, to the point that they're not really "antibodies" per se.

I think the article is just horribly written. If the so called antibodies in the article are doing to the destroying that would be much for akin to a killer T cell or natural killer. I suspect their innate immune system is just bonkers, that's what the adding HIV to human vs croc serum tells me since the only activity you can get is from the innate branch of the immune system. Something like the complement system.

I'm more interested in the science of how they can exactly replicate this to be injected/ingested/applied topically on humans and still work.

Depends what exactly it is that is in action here, if it's innate passive immunity could be easily transferable. Tetanus toxin and diptheria and toxin were given to animals over a hundred years ago to build their immunity and their serum, with anti toxin antibodies, would be given to human patients to treat those.




Edit: OK, I've done some googling on these magic crocodiles and I think I've mostly figured out whats going on. It's cationic antimicrobial peptides, made by a granulocyte (type of white blood cell) and part of the innate immune system. On contact or recognition of a microbe, granules are released which contain the peptides which are positively charged, and since bacteria have much more negatively charged cell membranes than animal cells that's where they go. Basically everything makes antimicrobial peptides, including bacteria to inhibit other bacterial species from taking resources from them. The differences are in how many different peptides are made and which ones are made as their efficacy differs against different species of bacteria.
 

WorldStar

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Jan 15, 2013
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Day by day I'm slowly becoming more convinced that they're not as stupid as they want us to think
 

neorej

ERMYGERD!
Jun 15, 2006
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Well, yeah, millions of years of evolution will do that. You don't get to survive for that long without picking up a few tricks.
 
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