Home / NATURE / What About Sloths Now? Sloth Hair Contains Bioactive Fungi Immune To Everything (Nearly)

What About Sloths Now? Sloth Hair Contains Bioactive Fungi Immune To Everything (Nearly)

In a brand new ground breaking study that began as a closer look at fungi for medicinal uses, scientist discovered some more incredible information about three toed sloths, specifically the three toed sloths’ hair, even more specifically-that the outer layer of the two layers of sloth hair contains bioactive fungi immune to everything, or at least great potential.

two toed sloth

Linnaeus’s Two-toed Sloth Choloepus didactylus (stuffed) in Bristol Museum, Bristol, England.
Photo by Adrian Pingstone

The study published in the science journal PLOS ONE titled “Sloth Hair as a Novel Source of Fungi with Potent Anti-Parasitic, Anti-Cancer, and Anti-Bacterial Bioactivity” explains first that three toed sloths have in fact two “layers” of hair, or two coats. The hair closest to the skin of this mysterious mammal is super fine, while the outer layer is not just coarse but actually “home to an apparently ubiquitous green alga” which is thought to help beneficial bacteria grow. The study also noted that this outer layer is also the comfortable residence of cynobacteria, diatoms and micro-organisms such as cockroaches, moth larvae and round worms.

Even before the movie “Medicine Man“, medical research scientists have been scouring the farthest reaches of our planet in search of the magical natural element to cure human diseases and afflictions for decades-even the discovery of Penicillin way back in 1928 was derived from fungi .

This study specifically had fungi in mind citing that while there is at least 5 million various species of fungi living on the planet, less than 2 percent (100,000) have been named or described leaving another world nearly untouched.

Considering the incredible biodiversity of the three toed sloth habitat and constant environmental pressure, not just from the environment but from other species that must co-exist in close areas, this may produce unique adaptations that require a closer look, a very closer microscopic look, the sloth hair itself being around 0.4 mm.

Fungi from the three toed sloth hair was analyzed, genetically screened  and sorted and they found that a large number of the extracts were bioactive against many “vector-borne” diseases such as; bacterial infections, breast cancer, Chagas disease and malaria to start.

The overall collection of data and analysis provided promising results for the research team which noted that the the biological importance of sloths has yet to be fully explored, and that the unique environment that Panama provides for a richly biodiverse atmosphere could be a pot of gold for medical research, and “novel” chemistry.

The authors of this PLOS ONE publication dated January 15, 2013, concluded that the need for humanity to conquer disease is one of our greatest purposes and challenges and that moreover, “our work suggests that fruitful exploration of the sloth microbiota is warranted for potential application in drug discovery.”

In the following video you are able to see (when the sloth walks away) this greenish alga mentioned in this study. Initially many scientists believed that the main purpose of the alga growth in sloth hair was for camouflage but now it may even be directly related to sloths staying healthy and disease free.

Video from YouTube “sickgross”, uploaded December 14, 2012 is entitled “Funny 3 toed sloth Crawling And Falling“.

Did You Know?

  • Sloths are actually adept swimmers.

  • Sloths have 4 part stomachs.

  • Sloths sleep up to 20 hours per day.

  • Prehistoric sloths were said to be as big as modern day elephants.

Feature image courtesy of Stefan Laube,2003,Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

About Tonya O'Dell