Is Bamboo Making Panda Bears’ Blood Antibacterial?

panda bear eating bamboo

Another Reason Why Pandas Rock: Their Blood May Save Your Life
Scientists discover antimicrobial properties in a peptide found in panda blood.

By Jenna Shapiro on

Giant panda cubs lie in a crib at Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Chengdu, Sichuan province in this September 26, 2011 snapshot. (Photo: China Daily Information Corps/Reuters) Pandas have made the leap—from purveyors of cuddly viral YouTube videos to potential life-saving creatures. Turns out the blood of these fuzzy, enigmatic bears may be the key to a potent new antibiotic for humans.

As outlined in a recently published paper, Dr. Xiuwen Yan of the Life Science College of Nanjing Agricultural University found that panda blood contains a peptide with strong antimicrobial qualities—so much so that it killed Gram-negative bacteria, which are notoriously difficult to exterminate.

The blood was also effective against drug-resistant bacteria strains. Not only did it kill previously infallible bacterium, but it was very fast acting as well. Yan and his team of researchers reported that the panda peptide killed Staphylococcus bacteria in one hour—this is compared to the six hours it takes the standard staph antibiotic.

Given that only 1,600 pandas are left in the wild, the notion of mining pandas for their blood does seem unethical, right?

Luckily the development of a panda blood black market seems unlikely—scientists were able to synthesize the peptide in a lab, meaning they can grow it without harming any wild animals. If anything, this new discovery might actually lead to more vigorous efforts to protect the pandas.

Panda breeding programs are rarely successful and are always very expensive. Given the limited funding and resources available to conservation programs, some have questioned expending so much time and money on one, difficult species.

Opponents to panda conservation—yes, such a group really exists—say environmentalists rely only on saving the panda simply because they are cute and fluffy, and not ecologically significant.

That assertion is simply false, as pandas are crucial to the habitats in which they live. They spread seeds and aid in the growth of rare types of vegetation. Their natural habitat, the forests of Southwest China, is also home to countless other endangered and threatened species—so protecting the panda means protecting many other animals too.

Dr. Yan’s research on the benefits of panda blood may be a success on two fronts: Panda blood might provide us with a new, more efficient antibiotic, while bringing attention to the plight of the charmingly huggable Giant Panda.

Jenna Shapiro is a high school senior in New York City who is passionate about writing and environmental issues. She has previously worked with EcoLogic Solutions. In her free time she can be found reading, biking, or walking her adorable dogs!