Study Unravels Mystery Of How Cobras Evolved Their Venom

Posted: Mar 18 2017, 4:37pm CDT | by , Updated: Mar 18 2017, 4:40pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News

Study Unravels Mystery of How Cobras Evolved their Venom
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New study sheds light onto the basic evolution of cobra venom and how it relates to human health

Cobras have venom unlike that of any other snake. Cobra venom can kill a human being in as little as 30 minutes. Some of its species are so lethal they can bring down even an elephant. Because of their fearsome reputation and deadly venom, Cobra’s morphology has undergone intense research over the years and is still a subject of interest for many researchers.

In the latest study, a team of international researchers led by University of Queensland from Australia attempted to figure out how cobras evolved their deadly venom. As cobra venom kills thousands of people every year and cripples even more, it is important to understand its evolution. This information could be used to prevent cobra attacks.

“While we knew the results of their venom, how the cobra's unique defensive venom evolved remained a mystery until now,” said Professor Bryan Fry from UQ's School of Biological Sciences.

"Our study discovered the evolutionary factors shaping not only cobra venom, but also the ornate markings on their hoods, and the extremely bright warning colorings present in some species."

Researchers studied 29 species of cobra and related snakes and found that the flesh-destroying venom first evolved alongside their trademark hoods, which they expand right before attacking. Other warning signs could be hood markings, body banding, red coloring and spitting.

“Their spectacular hoods and eye catching patterns evolved to warn off potential predators because unlike other snakes, which use their venom purely for predation, cobras also use in it defense. For the longest time it was thought that only spitting cobras had these defensive toxins in high amounts in their venoms, however we've shown that they are widespread in cobras,” said Dr Fry.

“These results show the fundamental importance of studying basic evolution and how it relates to human health.”

About 5 million people are estimated to be bitten by snakes every year. Of those, around 125 000 die while 400 000 are left with disability and disfiguration. Despite such a high mortality rate, snakebite is a largely ignored tropical disease. There is no proper treatment and anti-venoms. And if there are effective anti-venoms, they are too expensive for general public.

“Globally, snakebite is the most neglected of all tropical diseases and antivenom manufacturers are leaving the market in favor of products that are cheaper to produce and have a bigger market. Antivenom is expensive to make, has a short shelf life and a small market located in developing countries,” said Fry.

“Therefore, we need to do further research to see how well those remaining antivenoms neutralize not only the toxins that kill a person but also that would cause a severe injury.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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