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Pandas May Have Secret Superbug Weapon

Pandas have a powerful antimicrobial agent in their immune systems that's very effective against antibiotic-resistant "superbugs." (Image credit: Hungchungchih | Dreamstime )

In the fight against antibiotic-resistant "superbugs," medical researchers believe they may have found a powerful new ally: the giant panda.

Researchers at the Life Sciences College of Nanjing Agricultural University in China discovered the endangered pandas have a potent antimicrobial compound in their bloodstream that can kill a wide range of bacteria, including those that are resistant to antibiotics, according to the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph.

The antimicrobial compound, known as cathelicidin-AM, was found through DNA analysis of the giant panda genome. Cathelicidin-AM, according to the Daily Telegraph, was able to kill bacteria in less than an hour — other widely used antibiotics took more than six hours to be as effective.

Because of the increasing threat of superbugs with resistance to conventional antibiotics, "there is urgent need to develop new type of antimicrobial agents," lead researcher Dr. Xiuwen Yan told the Daily Telegraph.

The discovery may fuel greater interest in preserving the population of wild pandas — only 1,600 are believed to be left alive in the wild. The creatures have a very slow reproductive rate and are notoriously difficult to breed in captivity.

In addition to habitat loss due to agriculture and other human activities, climate change may also threaten the bamboo forests on which pandas depend for food.

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Marc Lallanilla
Marc Lallanilla has been a science writer and health editor at and a producer with His freelance writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Marc has a Master's degree in environmental planning from the University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Austin.