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Hormone found in platypus venom could be used to treat diabetes

Posted June 29, 2018

Platypus is a curious little animal. It is often regarded also one of the strangest animals in the world. Platypus has a beak-like snout, flat tail and limbs perfectly designed for swimming. But did you know that platypus is also venomous? Not only that, but the venom of Australia‘s iconic animal can actually be used to treat type 2 diabetes as was discovered by the scientists led by the University of Adelaide.

Male platypuses produce venom during the breeding season, and can deliver the venom from their hind spurs. Image credit: Christine Ferdinand via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Platypus genome was sequenced back in 2008 – that is when scientists started getting interested in a key metabolic hormone found in the venom and gut of platypus. This hormone, known as glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), is actually found in human guts as well. In fact, it is common in a lot of species. However, a modified form of GLP-1, called exenatide, is widely used for diabetes treatment. What makes platypus interesting in this sense is that this bizarre looking creature pretty much lacks a functional stomach, because of the massive loss of genes important for digestion and metabolic control.

Because platypus doesn’t have a very well-functioning stomach, GLP-1 hormone in their case is different. Furthermore, it plays a role in two physiological processes of the animal – it has a function in both the gut and venom. Numerous teams of scientists are researching platypus’ GLP-1 hormone, thinking it could be useful in treating different metabolic diseases including diabetes. It is believed that platypuses evolved a more effective GLP-1 hormone, because of its presence in the venom – males produce venom during the breeding season, and can spray it from their hind spurs.

Scientists are convinced that people can benefit from the GLP-1 hormone from the platypus, but before we can know for sure we have to study it in detail. Professor Frank Grutzner, leader of the project, said: “We already know that their GLP-1 works differently, and is more resistant to the rapid degradation normally seen in humans. Maybe this iconic Australian animal holds the answer to a more effective and safer management option for metabolic diseases including diabetes”. Scientists believe that studying the clinical relevance of platypus GLP-1 actually has some commercial potential, which is why industry leaders are also invited to participate in the project.

People can still learn a lot from nature. Sequencing the genome of platypus revealed the potential candidate for diabetes treatment. But you shall not worry – platypus remains protected and drugs would be synthesized in the laboratory.


Source: University of Adelaide

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