A BBC television producer working in Australia has stumbled on a substance that can kill bacteria immune to standard antibiotics.
The BBC's director-general Greg Dyke says the discovery was made during the filming of saltwater crocodiles in northern Australia for a science documentary.
He says the producer noticed that despite the horrendous injuries crocodiles inflict on each other, their wounds rarely get infected.
The documentary team got a blood sample from a croc and researchers have since isolated what they have termed a novel anti-microbial peptide.
Mr Dyke says tests have found the substance kills strains of virulent bacteria that are resistant to all standard antibiotics.
The substance has been named Crocodillin.
Croc Blood Battles Superbugs 3-17-00
Scientists in the United States have isolated a powerful agent in crocodile blood which could help conquer human infections immune to standard antibiotics.
The discovery was made thanks to the curiosity of a BBC science producer filming a documentary on salt-water crocodiles in Australia, BBC Director-General Greg Dyke revealed on Thursday.
"Our producer noticed something that surprised her - despite the horrendous injuries the crocs inflict on each other, their wounds rarely get infected," he told the annual dinner of the Science Museum in London.
"She discussed this with a young croc expert who agreed that it would be interesting to try to find out why.
"After many adventures, they got their blood samples and last week a leading research institute isolated from these samples what I'm told is a novel anti-microbial peptide.
Bacteria 'blown away'
"In tests, this substance kills strains of virulent bacteria that are resistant to all standard antibiotics," Mr Dyke said.
Named crocodillin, it may one day be used in drugs to treat human infections.
The BBC chief used the story to illustrate the active part the corporation took in the development and understanding of science, and to reaffirm its commitment to coverage of the subject.
The producer at the centre of the discovery, Jill Fullerton-Smith of the Living Proof series on BBC1, said natural antibiotics had been found in various animals, including frogs, but nobody had looked at reptiles.
She told The Times newspaper that scientists at New Jersey Medical School had split a sample of crocodile blood she had sent them into component parts which had then been tested against common bacteria.
"One of them blew away the bacteria," she was quoted as saying.
A peptide is a natural chemical made of amino acids strung together that can destroy bacteria by penetrating their membranes.
Such natural antibiotics do not damage normal cells which means they can be useful as drugs to treat human infections.