Australian Geographic Media Release | 2 February 2021
AUSTRALIA’S KILLERS are world famous. From deadly snakes and spiders, to the box jellyfish and blue-ringed octopus (to name but a few), our legendary line-up of venomous creatures (and plants) are actually at the forefront of great hope for break-through drugs and specific disease treatments.
In the latest issue of leading publication AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHIC, science journalist Wilson da Silva takes us behind-the-scenes of the expert teams looking to crack the code of various venoms and help save lives. As a result, many of these people go out of their way to get their hands on very dangerous animals.
“Venom is becoming increasingly attractive to medical researchers, and it’s easy to see why,” notes da Silva.
“De-coding the complexity of venom helps scientists to better understand how the human body works, and to tweak our internal machinery to correct problems, fight disease and improve health.”
Being bitten by a venomous animal is still a huge global problem. Around 5.4 million people are bitten each year by snakes alone, and at least 80,000 will die. Many others with suffer permanent disabilities, including loss of limbs. But there are far broader benefits from making anti-venoms, with the development of other treatments.
Venoms have already given the world six new drugs, one of which is derived from a species of marine cone snail and is highly effective against severe chronic pain. Rattlesnakes, vipers and leeches have all played their part. Some treatments help to stop blood clots, as well as prevent embolisms. Another nine drugs are currently undergoing clinical trials.
Australia is at the forefront of research into ‘killer cures’, thanks in no small part to our extraordinary array of unique venomous creatures and plants. For example, the venom of the funnel-web spider contains more than 3,000 peptides – making it possibly the most complicated chemical arsenal in the world.
The report examines our history of finding a cure to deadly bites, as well as the research now underway to unlock even greater benefits for a range of diseases and conditions. That research has shown that toxins from the same species can vary significantly, depending on location and a number of other factors.
Venom has evolved as a form of biological warfare over millions of years, and it represents a potential goldmine and life-saver for us as humans.
The full report appears in AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHIC's January-February 2021 edition.