Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Sloth Sleuth
31 January 2014

Sloth Sleuth

Rainforests, bristling with life, are humankind's natural pharmacy. The rich biodiversity found in these regions alone has been exploited to give us over 100 prescription drugs and more than two thirds of cancer medicines. And it’s within this fertile world that scientists have identified the latest, if somewhat unlikely, potential source of future medicines – the three-toed sloth (pictured). This jungle-dwelling creature sports a dense furry coat, an ecosystem within an ecosystem that supports a wide range of life, including over 80 fungi species. When tested in the laboratory, many of these fungi attacked parasites – including one responsible for malaria – numerous bacteria and even breast cancer cells. Studying these organisms may therefore yield new insights and tools for fighting a wide range of diseases. So, while sloths, as their names suggests are not always in a hurry, they may provide us with a fast-track to better health.

Written by Jan Piotrowski

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