Bites at Animal Planet

11 Jul

Could Sloths Hold the Cure for Cancer?

Just a few days ago, Vice News posted a 20-minute documentary about the rainforests of Panama and how they might hold the cures for diseases such as malaria, Chagas, and even breast cancer. Among the plants and animals highlighted in the documentary, the sloth, everybody’s favorite slow-moving critter, was one of the most important. But how could the laziest creatures of the animal kingdom possibly hold the cures for fatal diseases -- even cancer?


Photo Credit: Thinkstock

The answer lies in their hair, which is especially adapted to carry algae which can only be found on the backs of sloths. Hair is usually smooth, but the hair of a sloth is cracked to accommodate the growth of algae and fungi. On average, a sloth could be carrying up to 85 different kinds of fungi whose compounds could help in fighting diseases. In the documentary, sloths are called, “little pharmacies,” and it isn’t far off from the truth.

Researchers are working on getting hair samples from wild sloths to see if they do actually contain these helpful compounds. The ultimate message of the documentary was conservation. Panama is one of the six hotspots of biodiversity in the world, which means species are adapting faster so there is always the possibility for new compounds that hold the secret to the cure for various diseases. If trees are continously chopped down and the rainforest progressively destroyed, then these possibilities are ultimately destroyed.

Watch this video to learn more about wildlife conservation and what you can do to help:


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