Platypus milk saving human lives


This video from Australia says about itself:

Scientists discover unique protein in platypus milk that could save lives

14 March 2018

CSIRO molecular biologists working with Deakin University researchers have isolated the monotreme lactation protein structure for the first time, identifying a novel three-dimensional fold that the researchers say could lead to the creation of a new type of antibiotics.

From CSIRO Australia:

Saving lives with platypus milk

March 15, 2018

A breakthrough by Australian scientists has brought the introduction of an unlikely hero in the global fight against antibiotic resistance a step closer; the humble platypus.

Due to its unique features — duck-billed, egg-laying, beaver-tailed and venomous- the platypus has long exerted a powerful appeal to scientists, making it an important subject in the study of evolutionary biology.

In 2010 scientists discovered that platypus milk contained unique antibacterial properties that could be used to fight superbugs.

Now a team of researchers at Australia’s national research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Oganisation (CSIRO), and Deakin University have solved a puzzle that helps explain why platypus milk is so potent — bringing it one step closer to being used to save lives.

The discovery was made by replicating a special protein contained in platypus milk in a laboratory setting.

Platypus are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry”, CSIRO scientist and lead author on the research published in Structural Biology Communications, Dr Janet Newman said.

“The platypus belongs to the monotreme family, a small group of mammals that lay eggs and produce milk to feed their young. By taking a closer look at their milk, we’ve characterised a new protein that has unique antibacterial properties with the potential to save lives.”

As platypus don’t have teats, they express milk onto their belly for the young to suckle, exposing the mother’s highly nutritious milk to the environment, leaving babies susceptible to the perils of bacteria.

Deakin University’s Dr Julie Sharp said researchers believed this was why the platypus milk contained a protein with rather unusual and protective antibacterial characteristics.

“We were interested to examine the protein’s structure and characteristics to find out exactly what part of the protein was doing what”, she said.

Employing the marvels of molecular biology, the Synchrotron, and CSIRO’s state of the art Collaborative Crystallisation Centre (C3), the team successfully made the protein, then deciphered its structure to get a better look at it.

What they found was a unique, never-before-seen 3D fold.

Due to its ringlet-like formation, the researchers have dubbed the newly discovered protein fold the ‘Shirley Temple‘, in tribute to the former child-actor’s distinctive curly hair.

Dr Newman said finding the new protein fold was pretty special.

“Although we’ve identified this highly unusual protein as only existing in monotremes, this discovery increases our knowledge of protein structures in general, and will go on to inform other drug discovery work done at the Centre”, she said.

In 2014 the World Health Organisation released a report highlighting the scale of the global threat posed by antibiotic resistance, pleading for urgent action to avoid a “post-antibiotic era,” where common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.

The scientists are seeking collaborators to take the potentially life-saving platypus research to the next stage.

Background:

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria that were once responsive to antimicrobial treatments like antibiotics build up a resistance and then pass that resistance on to their next generation. This leads to ineffective treatments and more persistent infections, caused by these resistant ‘Superbugs‘.

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Australian echidnas help other wildlife


This video says about itself:

13 August 2015

The “short-beaked echidna” is one of four living species of echidna and the only member of the genus “Tachyglossus”. The short-beaked echidna is covered in fur and spines and has a distinctive snout and a specialized tongue, which it uses to catch its prey at a great speed. Like the other extant monotremes, the short-beaked echidna lays eggs; the monotremes are the only group of mammals to do so.

From Science News:

An echidna’s to-do list: Sleep. Eat. Dig up Australia.

Short-beaked species of this mammal is a valuable ecosystem engineer

By Susan Milius

12:00pm, November 18, 2016

With no nipples and reptilelike eggs, short-beaked echidnas look like a first draft of a mammal. Yet, as Australia’s other digging mammals decline from invasive predators, the well-defended echidna is getting new love as an ecosystem engineer.

The only mammals today that lay eggs are the four echidna species and the duck-billed platypus. Eggs are probably a holdover from the time before mammals split from reptiles. Each year or so, the short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) lays one leathery egg “about the size of a grape,” says Christine Cooper of Curtin University in Perth. Instead of constructing a nest, mom deposits the egg in her version of a kangaroo pouch and waddles around with it.

When the egg hatches about 10 days later, two patches of pores in mom’s pouch ooze milk, and the baby laps it off her skin. The puggle, as a baby echidna is called, hitchhikes for weeks as mom forages. The ride ends, however, when the puggle starts growing spines. “Then mum’s like, ‘Nope, no more,’ and she will put [baby] into a burrow,” Cooper says.

Puggles live in mom’s pouch until they get prickly

Puggles live in mom’s pouch until they get prickly.

Ben Nottidge/Alamy Stock Photo

Foraging echidnas claw around and poke their snouts into termite or ant nests, flicking out a long gooey tongue to flypaper up insects. The goo comes from unusually large salivary glands, but a quick echidna lick doesn’t slime. When Cooper wears sandals to visit captive echidnas, she says, “it’s ‘ooh, that tickles!’”

Echidnas’ toes point backward on their hind paws but forward on the front, and their short legs slant outward in a bit of a reptile sprawl, says Christofer Clemente of University of the Sunshine Coast in Sippy Downs, Australia. They rock side to side as they walk, moving both left, then both right feet. They can’t run, but they’re strong diggers, Clemente says. They not only claw around for food, but also defend their soft undersides by quick-digging into the ground, spikes up.

Acceleration-sensing instruments strapped onto short-beaked echidnas show they spend about 12 percent of their day excavating, researchers report in the Oct. 15 Journal of Experimental Biology. Over a year, a single echidna churns up some 204 cubic meters of soil, the scientists calculate, as it hunts for insects or scrabbles for shelter.  That’s enough to bury more than 100 full-sized fridges.

That digging benefits the echidna’s unusual diversity of habitat — from rainforest to desert. Echidnas don’t need to bury fridges, but soil turnover and nutrient mixing keep ecosystems humming along.

Baby echidna recovering from bulldozer in Australia


This video from Australia says about itself:

Meet Newman the Echidna Puggle at the Taronga Zoo

17 April 2015

Newman was rescued after its burrow was damaged by a bulldozer, injuring the little echidna. Keepers have nursed the baby back to health and it is now thriving under their care.

More, including photos, about this is here.

Echidna hatching from egg, video


This video says about itself:

The echidna is quite unique as it’s a mammal that lays eggs rather than giving birth to live young. This clip is an excerpt from our 1974 production, “Comparative biology of lactation”. A young echidna is called a puggle.

Video transcript available here.

From Smithsonian magazine in the USA:

Watch This Adorable Mammal Hatch From an Egg

A 1974 nature video shows a spiny anteater hatching

By Mary Beth Griggs

Via one of our favorite video blogs, The Kids Should See This, check out this incredible video of an echidna—also known as a spiny anteater—hatching from an egg. Echidnas live in Australia and on the island of New Guinea, and they are some of the only egg laying mammals in existence, along with the fantastically weird platypus.

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, or CSIRO, made this video in 1974. On the organization’s YouTube page, there are many more examples of wonderfully weird old example[s] of animal videos, including vintage favorites like the echidna hatching or a 1965 educational video about the birth of a red kangaroo. (That last one shows the actual birth of a live kangaroo and is not for the faint of heart.)

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Australian echidnas’ spurs, new research


This video is called World’s Weirdest: Echidna

From The University of Sydney in Australia:

Echidna spur not venomous

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The echidna‘s spur is used for communicating during breeding, not venom.

The function of a spur on the hind leg of echidnas has been revealed by research at the University of Sydney.

Male platypuses and echidnas both secrete from a spur in their hind leg. In platypuses the spur injects venom into competitors causing pain and swelling but the purpose of the echidna spur and secreted substance has been unclear.

“A waxy secretion is produced around the base on the echidna spur, and we have shown that it is not venomous but is used for communicating during breeding,” said Professor Kathy Belov, lead author of the study published in PLOS One.

Professor Belov is from the University’s Faculty of Veterinary Science.

Monotremes are egg-laying mammals and Australia and New Guinea are the only places in the world that have living species. Australia is home to the platypus and short-beaked echidna.

One of monotremes’ unique characteristics is spurs on the males’ hind legs. In platypuses the gland attached to the spur increases in size during the breeding season and produces a venom injected into competing males during the breeding season.

In male echidnas, spurs are in the same position and the glands also get bigger during the breeding season. But the spur cannot be erected and there have never been reports of envenomations by echidnas.

“There is physiological, molecular and fossil evidence to suggest the ancestors of both platypuses and echidnas were venomous,” said Professor Belov.

In a collaboration with the University of Queensland, University of Tasmania, and Washington University School of Medicine, researchers from the University of Sydney compared the genes switched on in platypuses’ and short-beaked echidnas’ venom glands during the breeding season.

The study analysed the RNA (ribonucleic acid) molecules in the two glands, looking for similarities and differences in order to determine the function of the secretions in echidnas and to understand the evolutionary history of the venom gland.

“We expected to see high levels of similarity between the two species but were fascinated to discover that the echidna ‘venom’ gland secretion was markedly different to that from a platypus,” Professor Belov said.

“There was no correlation between the top 50 most highly expressed genes in the echidna and platypus secretions. They produce completely different secretions.

“Overall the echidna gland looks more like a scent gland. Instead of its aggressive spurring role the echidna’s spur secretion is probably linked with either communicating its reproductive status with females or with competing males.

“Historically the monotreme gland contained venom. The loss of the echidna’s ability to erect its spur and other unknown evolutionary forces have acted over millions of years,” said Professor Belov.

“This evolution has resulted in the gradual disappearance of the venom in the spur secretion and the evolution of a new role for the gland.”

Giant platypus fossil discovery in Australia


This June 2017 video is called Fossil of Largest Platypus Discovered in Australia.

From Wildlife Extra:

Giant extinct toothed platypus discovered

A fossil of a prehistoric giant toothed platypus discovered in Australia

November 2013: A giant carnivorous platypus with razor sharp teeth once roamed the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in Queensland, Australia, researchers from the University of New South Wales have discovered. Named Obdurodon tharalkooschild it is believed to have lived around 15 million years ago and was about one metre in length, twice the size of its modern day relative the peculiar looking, egg-laying, otter footed, beaver tailed duck-billed platypus. And unlike today’s relation it had functional, sharp teeth, which were used to slice and chew crayfish, frogs and small turtles.

The discovery of the new species’ tooth in a limestone deposit was made by Rebecca Pian, a PhD candidate at Columbia University and former UNSW Honours student, and Professor Mike Archer and Associate Professor Suzanne Hand, of the UNSW School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“A new platypus species, even one that is highly incomplete, is a very important aid in developing understanding about these fascinating mammals,” says Rebecca Pian.

It is believed that, like other platypuses, it was probably a mostly aquatic mammal, and would have lived in and around the freshwater pools in the forests that covered the Riversleigh area millions of years ago.

“Discovery of this new species was a shock to us because prior to this, the fossil record suggested that the evolutionary tree of platypuses was a relatively linear one,” says Mike Archer. “Now we realize that there were unanticipated side branches on this tree, some of which became gigantic.”

The name Obdurodon tharalkooschild derives from the Greek for “lasting tooth” and an Australian folk story about the genus’ origin that features a strong-willed female duck who ignored her parents’ warnings and was set upon by Bigoon, a water-rat, leading to unusual-looking offspring.

See also here. And here.

The scientific description of this new species is here.