As bacteria become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, we’re going to have to find a different way to fight the diseases that threaten us. After all, we tend to take for granted that we can tackle a small infection with a course of drugs – but without antibiotics, a small infection can mean big trouble. Scientists are looking for a new source of bug-killing power, and they may have found it in the hair of the jungle’s most notoriously sedate creature: the sloth.
Researchers have long turned to the Panamanian jungle to look for medicines and cures because it is a riot of life, from tiny microbes to hulking bears and everything in between. There in the middle of it all is the plodding sloth, whose fur is like an little entire ecosystem all in itself. So researchers took a look at sloth fur and found that a fungi growing there can actually resist the parasites that cause some cancers, malaria and a number of pathogenic bacteria.
After dicing up the sloth hair into cultures and letting the fungi grow, scientists were able to identify 84 different fungal isolates. Most of them have been discovered before, but at least a few appear to be entirely new to science. Making extracts from this fungi, researchers found that two of the extracts inhibited, according to Ben Richmond for Vice, “one of the parasites that causes malaria in humans, eight that inhibit the trypanosoma that causes Chagas disease, and 15 that were highly active against the MCF-7 breast cancer cell line.” That’s quite impressive for an animal mostly known for its sin-like sluggishness.