Natural Immunity

Natural Immunity

The Virginia opossum has a natural immunity to snake venom. Scientists research if it works in the quest to create a universal antivenom.

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The opossum may be known for being stupid, ugly, and the animal voted Most Likely to Become Roadkill in high school, but scientists say its blood may be key to fighting the effects of snakebites worldwide.

In lab experiments with mice, a team discovered the exact molecule, called a peptide, in the North American marsupial's blood that can neutralize snake venom. The peptide worked against several venomous snake species, including America's western diamondback rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox) and India's Russell viper.

Scientists have known since the 1940s that Virginia opossums (Didelphis virginiana) possessed some level of immunity to snake venom, Komives notes. Other mammals, such as ground squirrels and honey badgers, also have a natural immunity to venom.

But now that her team has isolated the component responsible for the opossum's superpower, Komives says, scientists could mass-produce the substance as an inexpensive and universal antivenom for use in the developing world.

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