A Toxic Twist
Most of us will want to bolt as fast as possible at the mere sight of a snake. The slippery, slithery creatures are one of nature’s most terrifying and dangerous predators.
They lurk in a variety of environments and pose a threat to people and animals more than 20 times their size!
A large part of what makes snakes volatile, apart from their rapidly expanding/contracting muscular bodies, is the ability to bite and to bite hard.
That is, snakes can strike at lightning-fast speeds and can even inject life-threatening toxins into your body in lethal doses.
In fact, a bite from the wrong snake can kill you in minutes.
Talk about a feisty fiend!
Who would’ve guessed that the same ability to neutralize foes with venom can be potentially utilized by humans someday!
There have been some wild things written in the past few years concerning a variety of topics, but this one is right up there with the most head-scratching.
Recent research indicates people have the potential to inject a target with lethal venom.
This comes with the finding that the genes that regulate our salivary glands are the same that allow snakes to produce their oral toxins.
According to the study, conducted by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), mammals and reptiles share the genetic building block of the production of oral venom. This new groundbreaking information gives us more insight into how humans share various genetically influenced structures with other species.
Previous works have focused on the genes behind a wide range of animals.
These include spiders, snakes, and other animals that produce some type of oral venom. Ultimately, the laterally conducted research has proved futile, and little was gained from this method.
To get down to the brass tax, scientists needed another approach
The researchers began to avoid genes associated with toxin production and instead focused on “housekeeping genes” that help stabilize and support the oral venom system.
After examining the genome structure of a viper known as the Taiwan habu snake, the researchers have identified about 3,000 genes which they have labeled as the “metavenom network”.
The main function of this network is to help regulate the protein folding that is used in the production of the venom, which goes through two different routes.
One of the routes is that the unfolding protein response (UPR) helps to anticipate, detect, and correctly folds misfolded proteins. The other is the endoplasmic reticulum-associated protein degradation (ERAD) which allows that the misfolded proteins are degraded enough to prevent cellular toxicity.
When examining the genes across a variety of reptiles and mammals, researchers have found that they all contained the same kind of gene.
This means that, while the venom glands of snakes and the salivary glands of mammals usually serve a different function than ours, it does not disregard the fact that they all still share regulatory genes that remained despite the lineages splitting in the past.
Maybe we’ll make use of this one day, but probably not anytime soon.
“Many scientists have intuitively believed this is true, but this is the first real solid evidence for the theory that venom glands evolved from early salivary glands,” Agneesh Barua, a study author, explained in a statement. “And while snakes then went crazy, incorporating many different toxins into their venom and increasing the number of genes involved in producing venom, mammals like shrews produce simpler venom that has a high similarity to saliva.”
This type of research can help shed light on more commonalities between certain species that may one day uncover certain similarities in their traits, like producing oral venom.
A little-known fact is that humans already carry a protein in their saliva called kallikrein which is already contained inside numerous venomous secretions.
Nobody would’ve expected humans to be this close to snakes
But here we are. No matter where we’re headed in the next few years, we at least keep finding out more fascinating clues to our origins. With a clearer lens, we see just how beautifully complex we are in a world full of mystery.