lunes, 3 de agosto de 2015


Three-toed sloth (Bradipus variagatus). Source: YouTube.

By Gundhramns Hammer, PhD
August 3, 2015

The extensive use and overuse of antibiotics, sometimes abuse, in the medical and veterinary industries have created new breeds of bacteria that are resistant to drugs. This is why these pathogens are sometimes referred to as "super-bacteria" or "super-germs".

This situation has pushed the major pharmaceutical companies on a world-wide search for a wonder drug that will kill the drug resistant disease-causing microorganisms.

This search for new drugs has become sort of a drug war to see who catches the wonder early drugged worm!

Thus, no place on Earth is left alone without undergoing some kind of bio-prospecting, not even the hot jungles.

Everything is poked around, tested around, dissected around to the unhappiness of many a living creatures in the field and laboratories. 

This is how some scientists have stumbled upon the sloths´ epimicro- and macrobiome whilst doing bio-prospecting for new bioactive substances in Panama.

Sloths, arboreal mammals famous for their slow-moving habits and for looking like cozy bears, carry around an entire universe made up of millions of minute organisms attached to their coarse hairy coat, from fungi to algae.

And they are also hosts to an array of commensal and parasitic arthropods, carriers of various arthropod-borne viruses. Sloths are known to be reservoirs of the flagellate protozoan which causes leishmaniasis in humans, and may also carry trypanosomes and the protozoan Pneumocystis carinii (Gilmore et al., 2001).

So, what happened when sloths were bio-prospected for wonder drugs by scientists?

Eureka! Some fungi taken from the three-toed sloth (Bradypus variegatus) in the jungles of Panama have been found to have anti-parasitic, anti-cancer and anti-bacterial activity, according the findings from a team of scientists led by Dr. Sarah Higginbotham (2014) who works for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. 

Which goes to show you that Biodiversity is big money!

Now, has anyone ask how the sloths feel when they are bothered, dislodged from the top of the trees and hit the ground upon falling to steal them wads of their hair by humans?

We doubt it. 

Besides, how could we when we do not even understand one another and are perpetually engaged in endless bickering about what is whose and warmongering!

Do the sloths see these poking humans as bio-pirates, for in a sense this is what they are.

Only God knows.

From the humans´ perspective, it is all there for the taking.

And from the eye of ecological economics, it is a matter of "ecological services"

Ecological services for the benefit of man in this case, of course.

Anyway, no matter what, obviously, we can see that saving Biodiversity makes sense. 

And from the big-pharma´s perspective, even more sense when these corporations want to make sense from things that have been put under the scope of economic sense in a world that is being more and more being subjected to the grip of their economic sense.

So much so that ecosystems have now a dollar value.

But these folks, like most humans, are still lacking a true sense of connection to Nature´s sense.

To wrap it up, let us now take a look at this sloth bio-prospecting and poking around in Panama (Video 1):

Source: Vice News

VICE News host Thomas Morton swings from the trees with an international team of scientists in Panama that's found a promising treatment for malaria, Chagas disease and breast cancer in the most unlikely place: The mossy fur of tree sloths. It's yet another reason to not cut down rainforests. About half of all drugs brought to market from 1997-2006 came from plants, fungi and bacteria discovered by "bio-prospectors" in nature. And we see that sloths are just one of many new and unusual frontiers for this research. [Video 1]

English/Español (subtítulos)
Video 1. Bio-prospecting on Panama. Uploaded by Vice News.


Gilmore D.P., Da Costa C.P.  &  Duarte D.P.F. (2001). Sloth biology: An update on their physiological ecology, behavior and role as vectors of arthropods and arboviruses. Braz. J. Med. Biol. Res. 34 (1): 9-25.

Higginbotham S., Wong W.R., Linington R.G., Spadadora C., Iturrado L. & Arnold A.E. (2014). Sloth hair as a novel source of fungi with potent anti-parasitic, anti-cancer and anti-bacterial bioactivity. PLoS ONE 9 (1): e84549. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0084549.

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