Does Snake Venom Change Over Time? - Chromatography Investigates
May 07 2019
Snake venom is used by venomous snakes to capture prey or to defend themselves. But not all snakes are the same, and the venom they use differs in its mechanism of action. But does venom change with time or place? A recent report has investigated whether snake venom changes over time and whether there is a local flavour to venom.
What’s in the venomous soup?
Snake venom is made from secretions of fluid from modified salivary glands. Only sufficient quantities to disable their prey is used, injected into tissues or the bloodstream. But snake venom is not only poisonous to its prey and humans, it also has beneficial components that researchers are using to make new drugs and medicines to trial as treatments of many different diseases.
The main components of snake venom are proteins and enzymes. The enzymes help the venom breakdown various biological compounds in the snake’s prey, including carbohydrates, proteins and nucleotides. The enzymes are also crucial in affecting the physiology of the prey by lowering its blood pressure, breaking down red blood cells or stopping its muscles working properly. Polypeptide toxins are another component of snake venom. Polypeptides are small chains of up to 50 amino acids. These toxins affect how the cells function in the snake’s prey and can lead to cell death.
Did the snake change its venom?
It is important that we know how snake venom varies if we are to treat bites from venomous snakes properly - this is especially true when human encroachment into unspoilt areas is likely to increase the encounters of humans and venomous snakes. So, more information is needed to help combat any variation in snake venom. A recent study has looked at how the venom from rattlesnakes varies in time and place.
The study - An Analysis of Prey Resistance and Long-Term Temporal Changes in Venom Composition Within Rattlesnake Populations - used reversed phase liquid chromatography to analyse samples of snake venom that had been stored for several decades and compare them to recent samples of snake venom from the same location. Developing liquid chromatography methods is discussed in the article, Integration of MS and UV Data for Peak Tracking in HPLC Method Development.
The study found that venom samples stored for 35 years were stable, with only a few enzymes showing any sign of degradation. The research also suggests that snake venom from specific species does not vary over time or with location. But, the research did show that prey can adapt and become resistant to a snake’s venom. The work carried out aimed to expand our knowledge of venoms, their diversity and how they can drive evolutionary change.
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