Platypus venom linked to pain relief

8 May 2008

Dr Kathy Belov (centre) and her team at the Faculty of Veterinary Science
Dr Kathy Belov (centre) and her team at the Faculty of Veterinary Science

New research released today in the scientific research journal Nature reveals links between platypus venom and its potential benefits for advancing pain relief and antibiotic medication.

The Platypus Genome Project involved three University of Sydney academics in collaboration with 89 researchers worldwide in an international investigation of platypus venom and immune genes.

Research author, Dr Kathy Belov from the University's Faculty of Veterinary Science, said: "Our wildlife is an untapped resource for biomedical discovery. Platypus molecules have the potential to be developed into novel and powerful therapeutics."

"We have discovered the genes that code for the major component of platypus venom. Venom in a mammal is unusual, and we wanted to see where these genes came from, and whether they are related to venom in snakes and lizards," said Dr Belov.

PhD students Camilla Whittington and Emily Wong have determined that the venom, which is delivered by the hind spur of the male platypus, is present due to genes that emerged at least 50 million years ago. This finding means that the common ancestor of the platypus and echidna may have also been venomous.

The researchers will continue to investigate the uses of the platypus venom in pain management, similar to the uses of snake venom, which has been used to develop various blood thinning and pain relief treatments.

In their natural habitat platypus venom is believed to be used mainly for fighting between males, but it can also be used for defence. Dogs which have been spurred can die and in humans it causes excruciating pain which is not relieved by morphine.

Dr Belov and her team are collaborating with other Australian research teams including the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research and The Department of Primary Industries to develop these novel platypus molecules for human and animal therapeutic use.

Contact: Jake O'Shaughnessy

Phone: +61 2 9351 4312 or 0421 617 861

Email: 1b2f355d15222a2b2601574d3a1c0c1464031419610b4c