Platypus Venom Could Be Used For Diabetes Treatment, Study Suggests

By Christie Abagon , Dec 01, 2016 04:52 AM EST

Platypus is a semi-aquatic mammal local to eastern Australia.  A group of researchers from Adelaid found that the animal has a venom which contains long-lasting version of GLP-1 - a hormone which is responsible for releasing insulin to lower blood glucose levels.

Humans Have The Same Hormones, But Not Very Stable

The male species of platypus have a pair of spurs in their hind feet which secrete venom.   The toxic venom is enough to kill a small animal, but is non-lethal to humans.  The venom has a more stable GLP-1 hormone.  Humans produce and release GLP-1, but it degrades within minutes.   The short stimulus triggered by GLP-1 in people with type 2 diabetes is not enough to maintain proper blood sugar balance, making medication for a longer lasting form of the hormone a need. 

Lead author Professor Frank Grutzner at the University of Adelaide and Associate Professor Briony Forbes at Flinders University, said: "Our research team has discovered that monotremes - our iconic platypus and echidna - have evolved changes in the hormone GLP-1 that make it resistant to the rapid degradation normally seen in humans.  We've found that GLP-1 is degraded in monotremes by a completely different mechanism. Further analysis of the genetics of monotremes reveals that there seems to be a kind of molecular warfare going on between the function of GLP-1, which is produced in the gut but surprisingly also in their venom."

Echidnas Have Similar Venom, But Do Not Deliver Large Amounts

GLP-1 has also been discovered in echidna venom.  However, while the platypus has spurs on its hind paws for delivering large amounts of venom, there is no such spur on echidnas. 

The lack of a spur on echidnas remains an evolutionary mystery, but the fact that both platypus and echidnas have evolved the same long-lasting form of the hormone GLP-1 is in itself a very exciting finding," Professor Grutzner said.

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