Snake venom could become the source of life-saving drugs for cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure, according to an Australian research.
Gavin Huttley from The John Curtin School of Medical Research, The Australian National University, is part of the international team which discovered that the toxins that make snake and lizard venom deadly can evolve back into completely harmless molecules, and potentially be developed into drugs.
“Our work highlights a fascinating relationship between molecules that make up reptile venom and normal cellular proteins,” Huttley said, the journal Nature Communications reports.
“The results strongly suggest that venom molecules have been modified for non-venom purposes in nature. This is proof-of-principle that an otherwise toxic molecule can be modified to provide benefit to an organism, supporting interest in exploring their pharmaceutical potential,” added Huttley.
Nicholas Caswell from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK, who led the study, said that the results demonstrate the complex evolution of snake venom, according to a John Curtin statement.
“The venom gland of a snake 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,” he said.
Wolfgang Wuster from Bangor University (UK) and study co-author, said the team’s discovery opens the door to a new era of drug discovery. “Many snake venom toxins target the same physiological pathways that doctors would like to target to treat a variety of medical conditions,” he said.
“Understanding how toxins can be tamed into harmless physiological proteins may aid the development of cures from venom,” Wuster added.
Casewell NR, Huttley GA, Wüster W. Dynamic evolution of venom proteins in squamate reptiles. Nature Communications. 2012 Sep 18;3:1066. doi: 10.1038/ncomms2065. PubMed PMID: 22990862.