• What's Useful About Snake Venom? - Chromatography Explores


What's Useful About Snake Venom? - Chromatography Explores

Nov 26 2018

Snakes are fascinating animals and have been since humans first walked. They form part of the creation myths in Africa and Australia. The Greeks saw them as guardians of the underworld - who can forget Medusa in the classic Christmas film 'Jason and the Argonauts'. Snakes could heal according to ancient Greek myth - Asclepius, the ancient Greek god of medicine, used snakes in his healing practices.

And it seems the ancient Greeks might have been onto something. A recent paper in the journal Toxins - Proteomic Characterization of Two Medically Important Malaysian Snake Venoms, Calloselasma rhodostoma (Malayan Pit Viper) and Ophiophagus hannah (King Cobra) - has investigated what might be in snake venom and how it changes depending on the snake’s environment. And chromatography played a part.

Snake venom - from the fangs

Snake venom can be deadly. It is estimated that over 5 million people every year are bitten by snakes. This results in over 400,000 amputations and up to 125,000 fatalities. Snake venom is thought to be saliva that has evolved into the venom over evolutionary history. Snakes use the venom to kill or subdue their prey, venom can also have digestive actions too, helping a snake to digest and eat its prey.

It is usually injected by fangs and is secreted by a gland found on either side of a snake’s head. The venom contains many different compounds and different types of toxins are made by different snakes. Some of the typical venom symptoms include pain, inflammation, tissue necrosis, coma, breathing difficulties and death.

Venom - not all bad news

Some of the most interesting compounds are proteins and peptides - and these agents could be useful in our treatment of both snake bites and other medical conditions. Previous studies have highlighted benefits ranging from the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties - to possible uses as anti-cancer agents and possible use in stroke victims due to the anti-coagulation properties of some of the proteins in snake venom.

However, it is thought that the feeding and environmental conditions could affect the profile of the venom harvested from snakes. The purpose of the study referenced above was to discover whether this was the case with two varieties of Malaysian snakes that are considered medically important. The team used chromatography to separate and identify the different proteins and peptides in the venom. The use of chromatography to screen for compounds in a sample is discussed in the article, Sensitive and Robust Screening of Hundreds of PPCP Compounds Using Online SPE-LC-MS/MS.

The team used chromatography to identify several proteins that had not previously been reported in snake venom. They report:

These data may be utilized for improved antivenom production, understanding pathological effects of envenoming, and the discovery of biologically active peptides with medical and/or biotechnological value.

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