Monday, April 13, 2009

Snake diet find aids anti-venom

Axel Barlow
The research could help prevent people dying

New research by a Bangor university student has found that the diet of venomous snakes affects its venom strength.

Axel Barlow's discovery means that anti-venom can be developed specific to a certain snake's location or diet.

His studies into saw-scaled vipers, which have evolved to eat scorpions, found that they also had venom which was more lethal to scorpions.

Researchers hope the information will lead to fewer snake bite deaths.

The research was done as part of a final-year paper on saw-scaled vipers by Mr Barlow.

Anti-venom treatment

He said the significance of the discovery was that variation in venom composition between different species or populations of snakes can complicate anti-venom treatment.

This is particularly relevant in the case of saw-scaled vipers which are probably responsible for the majority of snakebite deaths in Africa, he said.

This was because west African hospitals still rely on imported anti-venom from Asia, where the saw-scaled vipers have a very different venom composition.

Saw-scaled viper
The saw-scaled vipers have evolved along with their diet

Axel Barlow added: "Saw-scaled vipers provide a good model to study venom variation as different species have extremely different diets.

"This allows us to investigate the effects of evolutionary changes in diet within a single group of related snake species."

Dr Wolfgang W├╝ster, an expert in snakes and snake venoms who lectures at Bangor added: "This study provides one of the most convincing pieces of evidence to date for the role of natural selection for diet in shaping snake venom composition.

"It is a key question in our understanding of venom evolution in snakes."

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