July 27, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Lick Your Wounds

Saliva contains a powerful anti-infection protein, say scientists from the Netherlands.  Science Daily reported that if this compound could be mass-produced, it offers hope for those with diseases, burns and injuries prone to infection.
    Saliva is a complex concoction with many kinds of molecules.  With controlled experiments, the researchers were able to identify histatin as the effective ingredient in promoting healing of wounds.
    The editor of the journal in which the results were published explained the significance of this finding.  “This study not only answers the biological question of why animals lick their wounds, it also explains why wounds in the mouth, like those of a tooth extraction, heal much faster than comparable wounds of the skin and bone,” he said.  “It also directs us to begin looking at saliva as a source for new drugs.
    A search on histatin revealed a paper in 2001 published in Infection and Immunity that also attributed antifungal and antibacterial properties to histatin-5, one of a family of polypeptides produced in the parotid and submaxillary glands.  “Like other salivary proteins, histatin 5 appears to be multifunctional,” they said. 

If you have been grossed out by the sight of an animal licking an open sore, maybe you should respect the animal for having tacit knowledge that scientists are just discovering.  How would evolution explain this?  How many animals had to die of infection before the right compounds emerged by chance?  How did the animal learn to lick the wound once the antiseptic did emerge?
    The creation perspective makes sense.  We are equipped with the substances needed to flourish in the environment that was created for our enjoyment.  This includes tools for handling routine exigencies that might arise from our curiosity.  You have an effective healing ointment right there in your mouth.*
     The shame is that modern science took so long to think about this cue from nature.  Sometimes civilization seems to train us away from the tacit knowledge we need as part of our design.  Will the Red Cross start teaching licking one’s wounds in First Aid class?

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