Mining Venoms

by Celia Henry Arnaud,  Chemical & Engineering News

Bryan G. Fry’s search for unusual venomous creatures has taken him to remote corners of the world, from polar Norway to Antarctica and many places in between. He’s milked venom from more than 20,000 snakes and been bitten by 26 of them. It’s just part of the job for this self-professed adrenaline junkie.

Fry, a professor at Australia’s University of Queensland, is one of a small but growing number of researchers who are using genomic and proteomic tools to delve into the venoms of animals as diverse as cone snails and snakes. Such venomic analyses are improving our understanding of how venomous creatures evolved and aiding both the development of antivenoms and the discovery of new drugs.

Venom-derived drugs have been in medicine cabinets for a while. Captopril, a cardiovascular drug first marketed in 1981, was designed to mimic a peptide found in the venom of the lancehead viper, a South American snake—and it became the first blockbuster drug. More recent success stories include the type 2 diabetes drug Byetta, which is based on a peptide from the Gila monster, a venomous lizard, and the pain medication Prialt, based on a toxin from cone snails. As is often the case, those discoveries owed much to serendipity. Researchers are now hoping systematic analysis of novel venoms will bring more success.  Read the entire story.

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