UQ School of Biological Sciences Associate Professor Bryan Grieg Fry and colleagues have published research this week which shows pythons are a surprising potential source of false-positives in snake venom detection kits.
Associate Professor Fry said that although pythons were non-venomous, â€œrelicâ€ traces of venom in their saliva could trigger the extremely sensitive snake venom detection kits.
â€œUsing antivenom to treat patients with python bite injuries could potentially trigger life-threatening allergies to the antivenom, without the benefit of curing a snake bite,â€ he said.
â€œUnnecessary use of the antivenom reduces stocks available for patients who actually need it.â€
Associate Professor Fry said this highlighted the decisions about administering antivenom should be based on the severity of clinical symptoms.
â€œA venom detection kit should be used to ensure that the appropriate antivenom is given, but it is sometimes mistakenly used as a diagnosis of snakebite by itself,â€ he said.
â€œAll snakes evolved from a common ancestor that was a venomous lizard.â€
â€œEvolution is like a crime scene, there is always evidence to be found if the scientist is a good enough detective.â€
Associate Professor Fry said snakes had varying potency of â€˜venomosityâ€™ ranging from those capable of life-threatening bites, such as cobras or taipans, to those that have lost almost all their venom, such as egg-eating sea snakes and pythons.
Previous studies that found python saliva could cross-react in the snake venom detection kit were dismissed as an anomaly.
Associate Professor Fryâ€™s study found that a pythonâ€™s oral glands predominantly secrete mucous to aid in swallowing large prey, but there are also traces of relic venom.
â€œThe extremely low levels of toxins in their mouths have no effect on prey or bitten humans, however in forensic-level diagnostic tools like the snake venom detection kit, they cross-react and give a false positive.â€
â€œThese novel molecules represent an untapped resource for biodiscovery,â€ Associate Professor Fry said.
â€œWe have found that the low level of ancient toxins still secreted in these glands includes novel compounds quite different than those from their well-studied cousins like rattlesnakes or mambas.â€
â€œIn addition to providing insights regarding how the snake venom system evolved, these results reinforce the value of studying a wide range of snakes, as novel compounds with significant potential for use in drug design and development may be uncovered in the most unlikely of places,â€ he said.
The study findings are published in Molecular Cellular Proteomics.
Molecular Cellular Proteomics
University of Queensland
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