Special venom… saves lives?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

These horses can relax now.

Brown spiders are commonly found in the Americas, Africa, Australia, and some parts of Europe.  Even though the creepy crawlers are about an inch long, their tiny fangs pack quite a punch! A simple bite can cause something called demo-necrosis, which literally means “the death of the skin.” It’s really heartbreaking, but many spiders and horses have to die to create an antivenom for this particular spider bite. However, thanks to a creation from the Federal University of Minas Gerais, many lives will be saved!

You see, the process to create the antivenom is very sad. First, someone has to give a brown spider a tiny shock. When it receives the small jolt of electricity, the spider releases some of its dangerous venom, which a researcher collects. Each spider can only release venom 3 or 4 more times before it dies, and it can take up to thousands of spiders to collect enough venom to inject in horses. It’s true, they really do inject it in those poor horses! After the scientists collect enough poison, they inject it into some strong, brave stallions. A horse’s body is able to create a cure for the bite, but it comes at a cost. When the horse is infected several times, its 20-year lifespan is shortened to a mere 3 or 4 years.

The new invention from Federal University of Minas Gerais could put a stop to all these innocent spider and horse deaths. They created their own venom that is very similar to that of the spiders, which means they no longer have to suck it out of the little guys. Also, the fake venom is actually non-toxic, so the horses can have some injected into their bodies without getting sick! Best of all, the cure their bodies produce with the fake venom can still be used as medicine.

“More tests are required to see if the [medicine is] long-term, but we believe we are on the right path to making a human vaccine soon,” says Dr. Carlos Chávez-Olórtegui, a biologist and spider venom specialist from the Federal University of Minas Gerais.

I bet several tiny spiders and galloping horses around the world were glad to hear about this news!