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Friday Eco-fact: Platypus Studied for Medicinal Purposes

This is pretty cool that the unusual Australian platypus is being studied for medicinal purposes:

New findings from Sydney University researchers suggest the venomous hind-spur of the male platypus could be used for similar medicinal purposes as snake venom, including in pain-relief and antibiotic medication.

“Venom in a mammal is unusual and we wanted to see where these genes come from and whether they are related to venom in snakes and lizards,” said researcher Dr Kathy Belov. The university’s Platypus Genome Project team believe the platypus inherited its venom from an ancestor up to 50 million years ago.

“We’re hoping that the venom can be used for novel medicines to help relieve patients’ pain,” said PhD student and research collaborator, Camilla Whittington. “But the really big thing is that the natural antibiotics found in the platypus with could help us develop antibiotic medication.”

The platypus’s spur is mainly used as a defence mechanism and for fighting between males. Humans that have been spurred usually experience excruciating pain, which cannot be relieved by morphine. The four-year study also uncovered the unusual make-up of the platypus genome – which includes genes also found in mice, chickens and humans. [Australian Geographic]

The platypus is an incredible animal because it is one of two mammals that lay eggs which are known as monotremes. The platypus’ stinger no one knows for sure what it is used for but its poison is strong enough to kill a dog and cause serious pain to a human. Hopefully in the future the platypus’ poisonous stinger will prove useful to the field of medicine.