Can we discover new antibiotic compounds in gecko skin?

Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut
Open Access
Raised of $3,000 Goal
Ended on 8/17/14
Campaign Ended
  • $605
  • 21%
  • Finished
    on 8/17/14

About This Project

Some tropical geckos lose their skin as well as their tails as a defense mechanism - yet despite living in the rain forest where even a small cut on a human can lead to severe infection, they heal fine. How exactly do these geckos resist infection? Is it something their skin secretes, and can we replicate these compounds to help people? Let's find out!

Ask the Scientists

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What is the context of this research?

The discovery of new antibiotic compounds is slowing but at the same time the number of infectious organisms which are resistant to existing antibiotics is growing.

It's critical that we explore new avenues of combating microbial infections - using viruses to fight bacteria, looking for antibacterial compounds in rain forest plants, exploring the genomes of bacteria to look for genes to target with drugs are all examples of way in which this is being undertaken, however the challenges to discovering new antibiotics are substantial.

In order to overcome antibiotic resistance, we need to forge new alliances between researchers, and undertake novel studies to discover new compounds. By taking a fresh approach and looking at geckos, we intend to provide a fresh angle to this important problem.

What is the significance of this project?

Antibiotic resistance is a global health problem, which is growing at an alarming rate. In the US alone, 2 million people become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria - of which 23,000 will die each year.

While the list of infectious organisms which are resistant to existing antibiotics is rapidly growing, the number of new antibiotics is dwindling. Commercial development of antibiotics has dropped to an all time low, just as we are in a race against time to develop new treatments.

As such, novel projects like this one to detect and characterize new antibiotic compounds are absolutely critical to averting a serious global health crisis.

Plus, wouldn't it be cool to prevent or treat infections with gecko skin?

What are the goals of the project?

1. Humanely house and care for 3 Gehyra marginata and 3 Phelsuma grandis according to IACUC guidelines.

2. Collect skin biopsies from each gecko and screen secretions on and in the skin for antibacterial activity in 40 known pathogenic bacteria.

3. Characterize any antibacterial compounds discovered using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.

4. Train undergraduate students in lab techniques and animal care.

5. Publish our results in open source journals to share them with everyone!


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First off, we need geckos. The two species we are going to investigate are common in the pet trade, so we'll buy already captive individuals rather than take any from the wild.

We'll also need supplies to keep our geckos happy and healthy - after all they are donating skin to science and it's the least we can do.

While we don't need any equipment, we will need consumables to run the selection experiments and then to examine any compounds we find using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry.

Meet the Team

Mark Sistrom
Mark Sistrom

Team Bio

I developed a love of nature exploring Sydney sandstone escarpments as a child. Since then I've worked on Amazonian fish, lizards in central Australia, African tsetse flies and the disease they spread and most recently bacterial and viral pathogens.

This project brings together both an interesting natural history story close to my heart with geckos, and my ongoing research into how to deal with emerging human pathogens.

Project Backers

  • 8Backers
  • 21%Funded
  • $605Total Donations
  • $75.63Average Donation
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