The Venom Cure
Sea Snake Venom

In the dead of night, a small boat slides across Australia’s Gulf of Carpentaria. On board are researchers Bryan Fry and his wife Alexia, both of whom stand ready, equipped with bright spotlights and large nets. They peer into the dark water. But it is not fish they are after — they are searching for sea snakes.

As NATURE’s The Venom Cure reveals, their goal is to collect, study, and catalog the chemical characteristics of venom from sea snakes. They have already identified a powerful anticoagulant that could one day be used to treat potentially fatal coronary conditions.

Eventually, on this night, the Frys catch a host of the sea reptiles. They carefully “milk” each of its deadly venom, then return the slithery creatures to their watery home.

After catching the sea snakes, the Frys carefully “milk” each of its deadly venom before returning them to the ocean.

Bryan Fry has milked thousands of snakes during his career, and has been bitten more than a dozen times. Luckily, he’s lived to tell about it, and all bites aside, he continues to study venom.

“There is something peculiarly fascinating in the use of a deadly toxin as a life-saving medicine,” says Fry, a Deputy Director of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne. “The natural pharmacology that exists within animal venoms is a tremendous resource waiting to be tapped.”

Once back in the laboratory, Fry will carefully analyze the venom, which is essentially specialized toxic saliva that attacks a prey animal’s organs. Some snake venoms target the brain, shutting it down, while others destroy liver or blood cells.

How did snakes develop such specialized chemical weapons? Fry’s research offers some insights.

In a paper published in the March 2005 issue of the scientific journal GENOME RESEARCH, Fry and colleagues note that the active ingredient in snake venom is often an “evil twin” version of chemical proteins that the snake’s own organs need to function. Over the last 80 million years, snakes “learned” to adapt these proteins and convert them into toxins. So a protein that helps a snake’s liver function became a weapon able to destroy the liver of the snake’s prey.

Overall, Fry’s team found that some snake toxin types originated from proteins normally made by the snake’s brain, eye, lung, liver, or other organs. Gradually, the toxins were produced in tandem with saliva, to create their deadly bite.

“Snakes are incredibly inventive,” Fry says. “The wide-ranging origins of snake venom explains the amazing diversity of ways that snakes can kill their prey and why they have so much potential use in medical research.”

Eventually, Fry hopes that his work will help researchers identify chemicals that could be used to treat everything from liver disease to brain disorders.

  • Chrisitne

    “How did snakes develop such specialized chemical weapons?” It is not a weapon but their saliva, just like you and me we have saliva to help us digest are food up, the saliva from that snake is used to turn the inside of their food into a slusshy so they can easily digest it.It is not a weapon their is not an unlimited supply, only what their body produces is what they have. Snakes use it for food, and only bite when provoked, you should thank the snakes for the awesome gifts of cures they give us.

  • Kenneth

    Good point. There are vertebrates on land with toxins, some extermely potent, and not all clearly oringinating from the animals own body. Some appear to be only defensive however.

  • Belisario Acevedo

    Interested topic

  • Belisario Acevedo

    I would like sharing our project in Colombia, where we have a great variety of biodiversidad from severa: jungle and forest we have; Amazon, Choco, Orinoquia, Middle of Magdalena river and we would like to do research like this one from Australia. We have on Colombia several and different poissons animals ( reptiles) : snakes, scorpions, spiders, etc and we believe all these great secrets of nature, have a great potentiliaties. Our project has base in Colombia, but we expect doing an international cooperation with USA ( BOSTON, and California University), Holland .among others. Our laboratory ASINAL is equiped with high technology for this purpose ( GC/MS) and we expecting have quite soon LC/MS/MS . The purpse of this message is for inviting researchers from any part of the world that would like joint to us and our project, so we can cooperate each other and sharing valuable information and technology . Please fee free contacting me

  • Nancy

    I have arthritis. Does Cleveland Clinic have trails.?

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  • B.B

    can the venom of a snake help menkind? and how does it help them? can you guys please answar me please.

  • Bob Conner

    If you graph any of those two variables they both look the same for dry and fuel cells. If H2 cell is better than a dry cell, how come the trends look the same and why do they look the same?

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