Could Early Research on Platypus, Echidna Venom Lead to New Diabetes Treatments?

A hormone produced in the venom of the platypus and echidnas holds future potential to provide clues about treating diabetes, according to a study published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

A hormone produced in the venom of the platypus and echidnas holds future potential to provide clues about treating diabetes, according to a study published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports.

The same hormone produced in the gut of the platypus to regulate blood glucose — glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) – is also produced in platypus and echidna venom.

In people with type 2 diabetes, the short stimulus triggered by GLP-1 typically isn’t sufficient to maintain a proper blood sugar balance. As a result, medication that includes a longer lasting form of the hormone is needed to help provide an extended release of insulin, according to the study researchers from Australia’s University of Adelaide.

“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,” co-lead author Frank Grützner, PhD, from the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences and the Robinson Research Institute noted in a press release from the university.

“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.”

The GLP-1 produced by the platypus serves conflicting functions, the researchers noted; in the gut as a regulator of blood glucose, and in venom to fend off other platypus males during breeding season.

The researchers noted that these findings have the potential to inform diabetes treatment, but further research is necessary.

GLP-1 has also been discovered in the venom of echidnas. But while the platypus has spurs on its hind limbs for delivering a large amount of venom to its opponent, there is no such spur on echidnas.

Reference

Enkhjargal Tsend-Ayush, Chuan He, et al. Monotreme glucagon-like peptide-1 in venom and gut: one gene — 2 very different functions. Scientific Reports. 2016; doi:10.1038/srep37744.