CHICAGO - May 5, 2010 - Scientists at the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and the University of Sydney have discovered two new peptides in the genome of the unique Australian animal the platypus, which could be used to combat multi-drug resistant bacteria and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture sector.

The results of the work were released at international biotechnology event BIO2010 in Chicago.

Professor Ben Cocks, Research Director - Biosciences at DPI, said computational analysis of the platypus genome found two remarkably diverse peptides with potent antimicrobial activity, particularly against gram-negative bacteria.

"These peptides are promising candidates for addressing animal and plant diseases.  As they are not related to existing antibiotics, they also have the potential to treat antibiotic resistant infections in humans," Professor Cocks said. "Understanding the enhanced innate immunity of Australian mammals such as the platypus may provide exciting new opportunities to address currently untreatable hospital and community infections."

Professor Cocks said antimicrobial peptides were central to how higher organisms managed their interaction with microbial communities in the environment.

"They are promising candidates for new therapeutics and also for regulating microbial communities fundamental to plant and animal productivity and greenhouse gas emissions from livestock," Professor Cocks explained. "Antimicrobial peptides are currently being tested to identify if they can positively influence the microbial flora of the rumen of cattle and sheep to improve productivity and reduce methane emissions."

"The agriculture sector is Australia's second largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions," he continued. "It is very exciting that these new peptides provided by nature could have such wide application to communities across the world."

The platypus research is the latest DPI results from analysing the genomes of Australian marsupials. At BIO2008, Professor Cocks announced a new antimicrobial peptide from the wallaby, which is now being tested for the treatment of mastitis in dairy cattle.

"Our work has shown the value of genomics for discovering novel compounds for health outcomes, and we have also developed a new technology for improving and creating more effective antimicrobials," Professor Cocks added.

The State Government of Victoria, Australia and La Trobe University are investing AU$288 million to establish  AgriBio, the Centre for AgriBioscience, which aims to boost Victoria's ability to make these important scientific discoveries.

To be located in Bundoora, Melbourne, AgriBio will be a world-class center for agricultural biosciences research and development. It is expected to be fully operational in 2012. Other agencies and organizations with complementary science objectives are invited to partner or link in to AgriBio.

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