For hundreds of years, humans have used maggots to remove dead and damaged tissue from wounds. The slimy critters leave the healthy, live tissue completely unharmed. It’s unquestionably disgusting--and effective. Maggot Debridement Therapy (MDT), a technique where maggots are placed in teabags and applied to wounds, is used in wound care facilities everywhere.
But while maggots may not be ideal for everyday home use, the enzymes and anti-microbial compounds they use to clean wounds are. Industrial biotech company Novozymes may be responsible for at least some of the new maggot technology: the company recently announced that it has identified one of the enzymes and an anti-microbial compound that allow maggots to clean wounds and kill infectious bacteria (like streptococcus and staphylococcus) so effectively. In the not-so-distant future, this research--and other research like it--could yield wound-healing bandaids, detergent that effectively cleans blood stains, and more.
If you want to see some disgusting pictures and videos of maggots cleaning wounds, click here. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Novozymes researchers and partners at the Danish State Serum Institute and Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen began their research by examining genes in maggot salivary glands. "The maggots secrete enzymes that degrade the dead tissue and so the whole hypothesis was to look for genes that were active in salivary glands of maggots," explains researcher Anders Schou Andersen. They move the dead tissue and they also secrete somewhat elusive anti-microbial factors."
The team isolated one specific enyzyme that they believe is instrumental in the wound cleaning process and reproduced it in the lab. But there are still more enzymes and compounds for researchers to discover. "The composition of [maggot] saliva is really complex, so whether or not it’s possible with just one enzyme or you need a whole array of enzymes in order to get the same beneficial effect of maggots--that’s not completely clear," says Andersen.
Nevertheless, Andersen believes that industrial applications for the technology could be commercialized--presumably by Novozymes and its partners--in three to five years. In 2015, you might be cleaning your bloody clothes with maggot-enzyme-reinforced detergent (the enzymes can remove dead tissue, so they are probably good at removing blood stains, too) or fueling your vehicle with maggot-reinforced bioethanol.
But what about maggot-enzyme-filled bandaids? Those may be a little farther off, especially since they’re outside of Novozymes’s purview. "If it’s a pharmaceutical application, it will take 10 years … and $100 billion," jokes Andersen.