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Venom hunt finds 'harmless' snakes a potential danger

e discovered that their venoms are just as complex as venoms from some of the world's deadliest snakes such as the cobras, puff adders and taipans.

"Some non-venomous snakes have been previously thought to have only mild 'toxic saliva'. But these results suggest that they actually possess true venoms," says Dr Fry.

"We even isolated from a rat snake, a snake common in pet stores, a typical cobra-style neurotoxin, one that is as potent as comparative toxins found in close relatives of the cobra," he says.

Fry's worldwide wandering has also boosted the number of what were previously assumed to be non-venomous snakes from a mere few hundred to more than 2000.

These snakes typically have smaller quantities of venom and lack fangs, but they can still deliver their venom via their numerous sharp teeth," says Dr Fry.

"But not all of these snakes are dangerous. It does mean, however, that we need to re-evaluate the relative danger of non-venomous snakes," he says.

Dr Fry trekked from Madagascar to Melbourne, dived for sea snakes in the remote South Pacific Islands, explored caves, climbed trees and milked over 2,000 snakes a year to gather his research findings.

"It was extreme science, but I had a complete blast doing it," he says.

As well as the evolutionary revelations, Dr Fry has also uncovered a vast range of new and unstudied toxins for toxinologists.

"The natural pharmacology that exists witihin animal venoms is a tremendous resource waiting to be tapped," he says.

"The toxin isolated from the ratsnake is an excellent candidate for use as a laboratory tool or even as a scaffold for use in drug design and development. The medical community may also benefit by exploring the effects of these unknown toxins in the human body."


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Contact: Jason Major
jmajor@unimelb.edu.au
61-3-8344-0181
University of Melbourne
14-Dec-2003


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