Every so often, the Internet becomes obsessively fixated on certain adorable, often evolutionarily defunct, creatures that the collective consciousness of the web turns them into species-wide celebrities. Memes are created, GIFs abound, Buzzfeed crowns it their new overlord and Urban Outfitters makes several ironic graphic tees to commemorate the new little darling.
From what I can gather, sloths are now the new pugs. The same way pugs were the new corgis, the way corgis were the new red pandas, the way red pandas were the new Grumpy Cat and the way Grumpy Cat was the new Rick Astley.
However, sloths may soon prove to be so much more than simple fodder for Internet frivolity. They could become medical saviors.
In January, a team led by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute discovered a new bioactive fungi common to three-toed sloths living in Panama’s Soberanía National Park. Researchers identified at least 20 new types of fungi that could develop into antibiotics.
Since sloths move throughout an extremely diverse rainforest ecosystem, it’s impossible for the scientists to pinpoint exactly how the fungi wound up in the sloth’s fur, but they speculate it may have to do with the sloth’s symbiotic relationship to the green algae, which they use for a snack, that they carry on their backs. (Similarly, my back is where I keep all of my Fruit-by-the-Foots.)
From the samples tested, researchers found that the anti-bacterial fungi could be active in fighting against malaria and Chagas disease, a parasitic illness spread by insects. The research also showed that the fungi could be used in developing a cure for breast cancer.
Moreover, the medicinal uses of this sloth fungi provides more of an incentive for the conservations of the South American rainforests that the sloths call home.
The main takeaway: Sloths are going to help us cure cancer!
Now, the notion that a sloth could save the world may sound like a bit of a hyperbole, but what is Internet if not an amalgamation of over-reactions and psuedo-scientific optimism?
Featured image via.