Lactoferrin, a protein found in human breast milk, could be used to fight drug-resistant superbugs — a direct result of the livestock industry’s widespread use of medically important, human antibiotics on animals.
A new study from the National Physical Laboratory and University College London has found that lactoferrin — which is also present in saliva, tears, and mucus — is able to destroy bacteria and viruses upon contact. To test lactoferrin’s attack strategy, researchers turned the protein itself into virus-like capsules, engineered to target virulent bacteria.
“To monitor the activity of the capsules in real time, we developed a high-speed measurement platform using atomic force microscopy,” researcher Hasan Alkassem told the Independent. “The challenge was not just to see the capsules, but to follow their attack on bacterial membranes. The result was striking: the capsules acted as projectiles porating the membranes with bullet speed and efficiency.”
Although isolated lactoferrin has yet to be made commercially available, researchers have begun investigating the ways in which this naturally occurring protein could be used to fight superbugs. That research couldn’t come any sooner, considering that the FDA estimates that 70 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used to treat livestock, a practice which has led to drug-resistance in diseases including tuberculosis and gonorrhea.