Australia’s first comprehensive venom “library” is being created in Melbourne, with the country’s deadly snakes, octopus and spiders set to be drained of their venom and stored in containers.
Over the past six months, scientists have collected 12 snakes and milked them of their venom. The snakes have been stored in a fluid preservative.
The snakes belong to the tiger snake lineage of species, with variants including two species of copperhead snake, a white-lipped snake and a small-eyed snake.
The venom library will progressively add other species, such as blue-ringed octopus, spiders, scorpions, platypus – which has a venomous spur – and other snakes. It will be the first facility in Australia to have a dedicated storage of venom along with full tissue samples of the animal the poison has been extracted from.
Researchers will be able to use the facility to develop improved anti-venoms, as well as to use venoms to create new medicines for humans. Biologists will also be able to study relationships between different species by accessing the venom store.
Nick Clemann, senior scientist at the Arthur Rylah Institute, said the tiger snakes were chosen as initial “low-hanging fruit” because they are common in southern Australia and occasionally bite people.
“Ultimately the sky’s the limit, we could have jellyfish or bees or scorpions,” he told Guardian Australia. “There are other places that produce venom, such as the zoos and reptile parks, but they don’t have preserved snakes or storage facilities. This will be a unique, curated collection that we haven’t had before.
“We will use this for the betterment of society but there will also be benefit for biodiversity as we’ll use it to better understand the relationships between species.”
Ken Winkel, investigator at the Australian Venom Research Unit, said the venom library will provide a better understanding of how effective antivenoms are.
“In particular, little research has focused on the variation in toxins found in the various tiger type snakes that we treat with tiger snake antivenom,” he said. “This project will begin by focusing on these types of snakes and their venom variation.”
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