Platypus Milk’s ‘Shirley Temple’ Protein Could Be The Key To Its Powerful Antibacterial Properties

Image: Laura Romin & Larry Dalton / CSIRO

The platypus occupies a funny spot in the animal kingdom, being one of the few living species of monotreme — otherwise known as egg-laying mammals. CSIRO, however, isn’t so interested in this as it is the milk of the lovable, semi-aquatic creature, which has amazing antibacterial properties. Thanks to new research, we’re closer to understanding how we can use it to help humans.

While we’ve known about the bug-fighting abilities of platypus milk since 2010, a new paper from the CSIRO, published in Acta Crystallographica Section F, outlines how the “monotreme lactation protein” in the milk actually works.

Because the platypus doesn’t feed its young via teats, the milk instead excreted through the skin of its pouch, it’s believed the protein evolved as a protective measure, to minimise bacterial infections.

Once researchers started examining the protein in detail, they discovered a never-before-seen fold in its structure. It was dubbed “Shirley Temple” — “in tribute to the former child-actor’s distinctive curly hair”, according CSIRO’s press release.

As you can see from the picture below, the name is pretty apt:

There’s still work to be done to figure out how modern medicine can best make use of the discovery, but I think we can all agree the platypus is a remarkable creature — and not only because it manages to look both cute and bizarre at the same time.