Could we, like snakes, one day produce venom? This is the question that Australian and Japanese scientists have attempted to answer in a study. Surprising as the idea may seem, it is not actually so outlandish.
A whole new take on the term 'toxic personality'
By studying rattlesnake venom, they found that the salivary glands of mammals and the venom glands of snakes share a genetic link. They also discovered that humans are able to produce kallikrein. This is a protein secreted in saliva and forms the basis of many venoms. This could mean that humans could become venomous in the future.
One of the study's authors, Agneesh Barua, said:
Venoms are a cocktail of proteins that animals have used as a weapon to immobilise and kill their prey, as well as to defend themselves.
What's interesting about venom is that it has appeared in so many different animals: jellyfish, spiders, scorpions, snakes, and even some mammals. Although these animals have evolved different ways of delivering venom, an oral system—where venom is injected through a bite—is one of the most common.
Many scientists intuitively thought this was true, but this is the first real strong evidence for the theory that venom glands evolved from early salivary glands. And while snakes later went 'crazy,' incorporating many different toxins into their venom and increasing the number of genes involved in venom production, mammals such as shrews produce a simpler venom that bears a strong similarity to saliva.
However, the scientist says that it is highly unlikely that humans will ever startproducing venom. This would require a complete change in lifestyle, including diet. We would also have to see what the benefit would be for humans. In nature, animals produce venom for two reasons: to defend themselves or to hunt.
It should be noted that these discoveries could lead to progress in the treatment of certain diseases, such as cancer.