Venomous plants and animals are incredibly common — 15 percent of Earth's biodiversity, according to the authors — occupying every ecological niche and habitat. From worms to lizards and from arachnids to mammals, venom has proven to be a winning tool in the game of survival. Venom is so effective that it actually evolves independently in a variety of species; but can we harness these toxins and use them to our advantage?
Until recently, harvesting venom and dissecting it on a molecular level was hard; many venomous animals are small, making it challenging to harvest. Also, venom is often a complicated cocktail of chemicals. However, this is slowly changing as technology steadily improves, and its full potential is coming into focus.
Lead study author Mandë Holford, of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and Hunter College — both in New York City, NY — believes that toxic animals may hold clues to the treatment of a range of conditions, including diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and chronic pain. Certain technological breakthroughs have helped develop better insight into venom. For instance, advances in omics — the identification and quantification of biological molecules that make up an organism — are providing deeper insight.
"Knowing more about the evolutionary history of venomous species can help us make more targeted decisions about the potential use of venom compounds in treating illnesses." Holford continues, "New environments, the development of venom resistance in its prey, and other factors can cause a species to evolve in order to survive. These changes can produce novel compounds — some of which may prove extremely useful in drug development." Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have approved just six drugs derived from venom. This, Holford and colleagues believe, is just the tip of the iceberg.
Because of the rich diversity of natural venoms and their high specificity, they could be useful templates for drug designers. Discussed in the new paper are a few examples of where venom might prove useful. For instance, peptides derived from a venomous sea anemone could help treat autoimmune diseases by targeting specific ion channels on T cells.
Also, neurotoxins derived from a species of sea snail — may provide effective treatments for chronic pain that do not cause addiction. Another example is the deathstalker scorpion, which produces chlorotoxin; this bonds selectively to malignant cells, making it useful for signposting tumor cells before surgery to ensure that all cancerous tissue is removed. Chlorotoxin has also been studied as a potential vehicle for transporting anticancer drugs to their target.
Spider toxins, according to the report, might one day yield an ecofriendly way for farmers to rid crops of pests. Rather than the traditional, broad-spectrum insecticides that can be toxic to other animals and build up in watercourses, natural, protein-based pesticides are highly specific to their target species and biodegradable. Venom is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, but using these toxins as medicine is nothing new. Venom still has many secrets left to be revealed, and technological advances will help us steadily unravel them. The burgeoning field of venomics is certainly one to watch.----------------------------
A novel Valley fever sub-unit vaccine for companion animals has been found by Mazen Animal Health to reduce the burden of coccidioides—the fungus that can cause Valley fever—in mice.
“We are thrilled with the early animal-model results showing the vaccine-reduced fungal burden in mice, followed by our successful challenge study in mice with this patent-pending product,” said Jenny Filbey, PhD, CEO of Mazen Animal Health. “A Valley fever vaccine is a great fit with Mazen’s focus on addressing unmet needs in animal health.”
Valley fever is a fungal infection that leads to disease not only in humans, but also dogs and other species, including llamas and alpacas. There is currently no vaccine for Valley fever, partly because the antigen is poorly expressed in microbial systems, leading to a high cost of production.
With funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Applied Biotechnology Institute has produced a sub-unit vaccine candidate in maize grain at levels a hundred-fold higher than what is possible with traditional fermentation. Maize-produced antigen allows for both injectable and chewable formats for vaccination. Sub-unit vaccines are considered one of the safest approaches to vaccines.
Valley fever can last years and is currently treated with expensive anti-fungal medications. It can also cause severe lung, spleen and bone infection, often leading to death.
Various reproductive options exist for mares that have trouble achieving or maintaining pregnancy. One such option involves injecting eggs or ova collected from mares with semen and then transferring those fertilized eggs into either the original donor mare or a suitable recipient mare.
“The procedure is complex, making it an expensive assisted reproductive technique. The ova must be successfully fertilized with the semen of choice and then frozen or cryopreserved. These fertilized ova must then be thawed and implanted into a mare at the appropriate time. While frozen, the ova may be transported anywhere in the world, assuming storage conditions remain optimal,” explained Laura Petroski-Rose, B.V.M.S., a Kentucky Equine Research veterinarian.
She added, “Not surprisingly, there is a lot of room for error along the way, and despite being expensive and necessitating a great deal of planning, the success rate may not meet many breeders’ expectations.”
For example, one group of reproductive researchers recently reported* that of 261 blastocysts (eggs fertilized by intracytoplasmic injection of semen), only about 50% of recipient mares were pregnant 7-10, 23, and 37 days after embryo transfer. Factors such as mare’s age, reproductive history, and mare management did not appear to affect those pregnancy rates.
“Nonetheless, the researchers did suggest transferring those cryopreserved embryos into recipient mares 4-5 days after ovulation, and that slow embryonic growth after transfer could predict pregnancy loss,” shared Petroski-Rose.
According to the researchers, being aware of factors affecting pregnancy outcomes “can be of great value to equine practitioners when making a treatment plan and managing client expectations.”
Discuss the various assisted reproductive techniques currently available and choose the best one for your operation. Regardless of which procedure you ultimately select, help ensure success by properly prepping your recipient mare for pregnancy.
“This involves ensuring her plane of nutrition is appropriate, her routine veterinary preventive care such as vaccinations and farriery are up to date, and supplementing with a fish oil containing adequate levels of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA to support gestation,” Petroski-Rose advised.
Would you like a side of flies with that?
According to reports, flies are what a Brick resident received with her Dunkin' Donuts breakfast sandwich Thursday morning.
Krystle Platzer posted photos and video onto her Facebook page showing a worm, larvae, and flies in her bacon, egg and cheese croissant she bought at the Dunkin' Donuts on Route 88 in Lakewood. In her Facebook post she warned, "CHECK YOUR FOOD PEOPLE."
Brick woman finds worms, flies, and larvae in Dunkin' Donuts sandwich purchased in Lakewood.
A manager at the Dunkin' Donuts shop, Faisal Haq, referred calls to the Dunkin' Donuts national media hotline.
Olivia White, a Dunkin's Donuts spokeswoman said the company sent a certified operations manager to the store to "confirm all food safety and quality standards" are being met. "We take matters such as this very seriously," she said. "The franchisee who owns and operates the store has confirmed he has met with the guest to resolve the matter and apologize for the poor experience."
Platzer had also purchased another bacon, egg and cheese croissant for her 3-year-old-son but he had already eaten most of the sandwich by the time she discovered the bugs in her own. The child did not get sick after eating his sandwich.
Golfers in St. Petersburg, Florida, were shocked when they saw a massive rattlesnake slither across the course.
Logan Ungerer and some friends were golfing at Mangrove Bay Golf Course on Columbus Day when Ungerer “saw what looked like a stick blowing in the wind on the green,” according to Fox 13.
Upon closer inspection, he realized it wasn’t a stick at all — it was a snake.
The creature was likely a diamondback rattlesnake, David Steen, a conservation biologist, told the Tampa Bay Times. Diamondbacks are said to be the largest venomous snake in North America, reaching up to eight feet in length, National Geographic reports.
Steen called the sighting “unusual.”
"Snakes are typically secretive creatures that have nothing to gain from interacting with people, so it is unusual for a snake like this to be found in the open on a golf course," Steen said. "It is likely that the rattlesnake was simply observed while traveling from one forest patch to another."
Ungerer’s video has since gone viral and has been shared by publications across the country.
Ungerer told Fox 13 the experience was “exhilarating."
A goat has been caught up in a police operation after being spotted in a car stopped by police.
However, the goat managed to escape trouble with the law, despite flaunting rules that apply to humans.
Eastern Bay of Plenty Police were carrying out an operation targeting child restraints in vehicles when they came across the unrestrained goat on Friday.
Road Policing Constable Marty Sanderson said: "It was odd seeing an unrestrained goat in a car today ... but the good thing was, all the human passengers had seat belts on.
"Although it's not illegal to have an unrestrained animal in your vehicle, pets should be safely restrained with an appropriate harness or restraint, in a cargo barrier, cage or crate."
Because animals are not legally required to be restrained, the goat was breaking no laws.
It's not the first time a car has been found in the wider area with an unrestrained goat in it.
In March, an eight-year-old boy was filmed driving a Ford station wagon in the Coromandel with three other children in the car and a goat in the boot.
A spokeswoman said police had recently tried to educate people about the safety of animals in vehicles, so thought the unrestrained goat would be a good example.
"I know it's not a good dog, but if it's a pet goat - and I know they can get quite friendly - why not put him in a safety harness as well, or a cage in the back of your station wagon."
Road Policing Team Sergeant Ray Wylie was pleased with how the child restrain operation went.
"In almost every case where a child was found unrestrained, the driver was wearing a seatbelt," he said.
"Police would like to remind drivers that it is their responsibility to ensure children in vehicles up to the age of 15-years-old are correctly restrained."
Over the course of the operation, 166 child restraints were inspected by a technician, six child restraints were given to people who needed them and 33 infringement notices were issued, including 15 for child restraint breaches.
Since the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, the park's ecosystem has become a deeply complex and heterogeneous system, aided by a strategy of minimal human intervention. The new study is a synthesis of 40 years of research on large mammals in Yellowstone National Park, conducted by University of Alberta ecologist Mark Boyce.
"Yellowstone has benefited from the reintroduction of wolves in ways that we did not anticipate, especially the complexity of biological interactions in the park," explained Boyce, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Alberta Conservation Association Chair in Fisheries and Wildlife. "How the vegetation in one valley responded to wolf recovery can be very different than in the next valley."
Some of these complex interactions include the increasing influence of bears on the survival of elk calves, the relationships between wolves and hunters, as well as the recovery of willow, cottonwood, and aspen trees in different areas of the park. In addition, bison have replaced elk as the dominant herbivore on Yellowstone's Northern Range, and bison numbers continue to increase.
"We would have never seen these responses if the park hadn't followed an ecological-process management paradigm -- allowing natural ecological processes to take place with minimal human intervention," said Boyce.
However, Boyce explained, using the Yellowstone model in human-dominated systems would have a very different effect, and the top-down influence of wolves and other large carnivores cannot be expected to rescue ecosystems outside national parks or other protected areas.
"Human-dominated systems are very different and wolf recovery will not produce the same results because agriculture, livestock and hunting overwhelm the effects caused by large carnivores. We already have viable populations of wolves, bears, and cougars across much of Alberta but their influence varies depending on the extent of human alterations to the system."
A University of Sydney study has found that canine parvovirus (CPV), a highly contagious and deadly disease that tragically kills puppies, is more prevalent than previously thought with 20,000 cases found in Australia each year, and nearly half of these cases result in death.
Despite the extent of this disease, this is the first survey study to examine the impact of CPV in Australia since 1982. Published in Transboundary and Emerging Disease, the national survey of 534 veterinary clinics investigated the number of cases of CPV, their geographic distribution, and financial impacts on pet owners.
The survey revealed that CPV remains a major cause of disease in puppies and dogs across Australia, particularly in rural and remote areas of the country, despite improvements in vaccination technology over the last 40 years. CPV in dogs causes the destruction of the intestinal lining and villous atrophy, resulting in severe gastroenteritis, hemorrhagic diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration.
"CPV can kill puppies, so is an especially tragic disease, and most people are unaware that this is a big issue nationally," said lead researcher Dr Mark Kelman, a veterinarian and PhD candidate at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science. "The estimated number of cases of CPV across Australia was 20,661 in 2015 and 20,110 in 2016, and the overall reported euthanasia rate was 41 per cent."
The survey identified large numbers of CPV in rural, remote, and lower socioeconomic areas of Australia. Where cases occurred in capital city areas, they were more commonly seen in outskirt areas, away from the inner city. The Northern Territory had the highest rate of CPV, twice as high as NSW, highlighting the severity of the disease in this area. The only areas with relatively lower rates were the ACT and Victoria.
"We suggest that socioeconomic factors and other issues in these regions may result in poor vaccination rates. If these rates could improve, this might stop these outbreaks and disease cases from occurring." The study found that the average cost to treat CPV cases was $1,500 per patient, with a significant difference in the cost of treating cases between Australian states -- Western Australia being the most expensive state (median cost $2,500).
"The data shows that cost factors were linked to the pet owners' decisions to seek treatment for their dog -- higher costs were linked to pet owners opting for euthanasia instead of seeking treatment. An inability to afford treatment might be a factor in the high euthanasia rates reported by veterinarians.
"Something that we are looking at, and a charity that I have started called Paws for a Purpose has now begun some pilot vaccination programs in high-risk rural areas to try and prevent cases from occurring.
"We are currently heading into the worst time of year for parvovirus, so we also urge people to vaccinate their dogs if they aren't fully vaccinated -- especially puppies."
An insulin-binding protein in fruit flies could provide new opportunities for tackling disease-carrying mosquitoes, such as malaria and yellow fever, scientists at the University of York have found. Published in Nature Communications, the research characterised a protein that is involved in regulating insulin in the fruit fly, which was previously thought to behave in the same way that insulin-like hormones work in humans.
Fruit flies are often used as models for researching many human diseases, particularly neurodegenerative diseases, because the system of releasing insulin and other hormones that stimulate metabolism, cell growth, and cell death are common to humans and animals, including insects.
Scientists at the University of York, however, investigated a protein that is different in the fruit fly compared to its equivalent in humans; they found that insulin-binding in the fruit fly is not the same as it is in humans as was previously thought.
Professor Marek Brzozowski, from the University of York's Department of Biology, said: "It is important that we know exactly how this insulin-dependent life-sustaining system operates because fruit flies are commonly used as models for studying human diseases.
"What is particularly interesting in our new study, is that a protein that regulates hormones in the fruit fly, which is not present in humans, is, however, common to a lot of other insects, and most significantly, to mosquitoes that carry diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and dengue.
"Now that we know this we can potentially look at inventions that prevents this protein from activating hormones that sustain the lifespan of some of these insects, as well as fine-tune the models we use to study human disease in the fruit fly."
There are a number of strands of study for combatting mosquito-borne diseases; one areas looks at drug development to immunise humans against the life-threatening disease and another that is investigating how to genetically modify the insect or disrupt its reproductive abilities to reduce its population size.
Drug develop for some of these diseases, particularly in developing nations, can prove too expensive, however, and so investigating new interventions to alter the life-cycle of the mosquito is a strong area of scientific research. Further study is needed, however, to understand the significance of the mosquito to various ecosystems.