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Humans Could Become Venomous In The Future, Study Claims

Humans Could Become Venomous In The Future, Study Claims

Scientists found a link between salivary glands in mammals and venom glands in snakes

Dominic Smithers

Dominic Smithers

A new study has claimed that humans may have the potential to become venomous.

Scientists from the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and the Australian National University have found there to be a link between salivary glands in mammals and venom glands in snakes.

The study, which was published in the PNAS journal, states that while it hasn't happened yet, there is the potential - though unlikely - under certain environmental conditions, for humans or mice to become venomous.

As part of the investigation, scientists searched for genes that work alongside and interact with the venom genes.

To do this they used the venom glands from the Taiwan habu snake, identifying around 3,000 of these genes.

They then discovered that these 'connecting' genes were vital at protecting the cells from stress due to the production of a high number of proteins.


Similar genes were also found in a number of different mammals like chimpanzees, humans, and even dogs.

Researchers then discovered the genes within samples of salivary gland tissue of mammals behave in a similar way to those found in snake venom glands.

And this led them to conclude there may be a functional link between the two.

Lead author of the study Agneesh Barua said: "Many scientists have intuitively believed this is true, but this is the first real solid evidence for the theory that venom glands evolved from early salivary glands.

"While snakes then went crazy, incorporating many different toxins into their venom and increasing the number of genes involved in producing venom, mammals like shrews produce simpler venom that has a high similarity to saliva."

Experiments in the 1980s, he says, also found that male mice produced 'compounds in their saliva that are highly toxic when injected into rats'.

"If under certain ecological conditions, mice that produce more toxic proteins in their saliva have better reproductive success, then in a few thousand years, we might encounter venomous mice." he added.


And while it's unlikely, Barua said, in the future, and under the right ecological conditions, humans could develop venom.

In terms of how humans are changing right now, though, a recent study found that fewer people are being born with wisdom teeth.

The results of the research, published in the Journal of Anatomy, showed that the human race is evolving faster than it has done at any other point in the past 250 years.

The team of Australian scientists found that modern babies are often born with shorter faces and smaller jaws, meaning there is less room for teeth.

Dr Teghan Lucas, of Flinders University in Adelaid, said our increased ability to chew food and natural selection has resulted in fewer people with wisdom teeth.

"This is happening in time as we have learnt to use fire and process foods more," Lucas said.

"A lot of people are just being born without wisdom teeth."

Featured Image Credit: PA

Topics: Science, Study, venom, Research, Snakes, Australia, Japan