Stories tagged marsupials

Jul
08
2007

The Platypus: It's watching you. Waiting for you to slip up.
The Platypus: It's watching you. Waiting for you to slip up.
The platypus, also known as “Wait… what?,” bears the distinction of being one of the very few poisonous mammals. The list also includes several types of shrew, the solendon, the slow loris (the elbows of which secrete a toxin which smells like sweaty socks - seriously), and, of course, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, who put M & M in the hospital for two weeks after delivering a bite just above the left knee.

Both male and female platypoda (check it out, it works) possess a large claw, or spur, on their hind legs. However, only the spurs of the males are venomous. The poison is only produced during mating season, and it is used to defend against predators, and to compete with other males for mates. A strike from a poisonous spur is not enough to kill an animal the size of a human, but victims often suffer incapacitating pain that can last for days or even months. And there is currently no antivenin available for platypus poison.

By studying the evolution of platypus venom, scientists think they can come closer to creating an effective treatment for it. Sequencing of the platypus venom genes shows that the poison evolved from by the “duplication from genes that were once involved in the immune system.” The venom, they have found, contains “defensin”-like proteins. “Defensin” proteins exist in the immune system of the platypus, and are produced as an antibiotic in the milk of some other marsupials.

The hope is that, by knowing the exact toxins involved, scientists can then find which proteins are associated with pain sensation in the victim. Drugs might then be found that could interfere with the venom’s interaction with these proteins.

Not content with simply developing a defense against the platypoda, scientists are also considering how to best develop an active offense against the poisoners – a sort of marsupial preemptive strike. Various methods, ranging from space based high-energy lasers to country-wide “roast” like events (designed to humiliate the platypoda), have been considered. Scientists warn, however, that the implementation of such ideas is still several years off, at least.

The Claw of the Platypus!