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Alligator cells may lead to human medicine

Mark Merchant, biochemistry professor at McNeese State University, spoke with Leesville High School students Tuesday to discuss his ongoing research project investigating naturally occurring antibacterial peptides in alligators to uncover a new class of antibiotics.

Merchant said he was first interested in this research when he noticed alligators who sustained serious injuries, such as a missing limb or tail, would not only heal rapidly, but also without any infections. So he set out to investigate in marshes to collect blood samples from crocodilians, which includes all alligator, crocodile and caiman species, to study their tissue and immune systems. After extracting the white blood cells, Merchant infused them with bacteria and discovered holes where it did not grow, proving there is something inside their white blood cells that kill bacteria.

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