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Study of isolated snakes could help shed light on venom composition
Date:9/16/2009

GAINESVILLE, Fla. While studying a way to more safely and effectively collect snake venom, University of Florida researchers have noticed the venom delivered by an isolated population of Florida cottonmouth snakes may be changing in response to their diet.

Scientists used a portable nerve stimulator to extract venom from anesthetized cottonmouths, producing more consistent extraction results and greater amounts of venom, according to findings published in August in the journal Toxicon.

The study of venoms is important for many reasons, scientists say.

"The human and animal health benefits include understanding the components of venom that cause injury and developing better antivenin," said Darryl Heard, B.V.M.S., Ph.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Veterinary Medicine's department of small animal clinical sciences. "In addition, the venom components have the potential to be used for diagnostic tests and the development of new medical compounds."

But in addition to showing the extraction method is safer, more effective and less stressful to both snake and handler than the traditional "milking" technique, Heard and Ryan McCleary, a Ph.D. candidate in biology in UF's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, discovered the venom from these particular snakes differs from that of mainland snakes, likely because of their unique diet of dead fish dropped by seabirds.

Heard and McCleary collaborated to develop a safe, reliable and humane technique for collecting venom from cottonmouths as part of a larger study on a specific population of snakes that reside on Seahorse Key, an isolated island near Cedar Key on the Florida's Gulf Coast.

The venom collection study included data from 49 snakes on Seahorse Key.

"Snakes on this island are noted for their large size," said Heard, a zoological medicine veterinarian with additional expertise in anesthesia. He added that Harvey Lillywhite, Ph.D.,
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Contact: Sarah Carey
careysk@vetmed.ufl.edu
352-392-2213
University of Florida
Source:Eurekalert

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