Venom generally contains an assortment of fatal molecules known as toxins, however, these toxins have changed from harmless compounds that previously did other jobs in the body. They seek out normal biological processes in snakes' prey, including nerve cell signaling or blood clotting, causing them to cease functioning. As previously seen in other studies, understanding how these toxins play a role in these functions can contribute to questions of platelet activation and other disease related problems.
UK-led scientists have discovered that toxins from lethal snake and lizard venom can transform back into harmless molecules, suggesting they could mature into new drugs.
NERC-funded researcher and lead author of the study, Dr. Nicholas Casewell from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, explains:
"Our results demonstrate that the evolution of venoms is a really complex process. The venom gland of snakes appears to be a melting pot for evolving new functions for molecules, some of which are retained in venom for killing prey, while others go on to serve new functions in other tissues in the body."
Toxins from lethal snake venom can change back into harmless molecules, which could be developed into drugs for conditions such as cancer or diabetes, scientists say.
Snake researchers knew that venom toxins could come from harmless molecules that do monotonous jobs in other parts of the body. Even though, until recently, the assumption was that this is a one-way process.
Researchers from the Australian National University, Bangor University, and Casewell investigated gene sequences from the Burmese python and the Garter snake in this study, which was published in Nature Communications. They then constructed an evolutionary tree showing the relationships between several sequences by comparing them with a variety of venom glands.
Dr Wolfgang Wüster from Bangor University, a co-author of the study concludes:
"Many snake venom toxins target the same physiological pathways that doctors would like to target to treat a variety of medical conditions. Understanding how toxins can be tamed into harmless physiological proteins may aid development of cures from venom."