How An Opossum Could Be The Reason You Survive A Snakebite

Think about all of the unsettling creepy crawlies inhabiting the dark corners of the earth. According to Safari Africana, there are no less than 600 different species of venomous snakes slithering around planet Earth, though only a third of them are actually dangerous to humans. Still, 200 possible snake bites that could spell out your untimely demise? That's a wager most of us would prefer not to make. The World Health Organization estimates there are some 81,000-138,000 deaths from snake bite across the globe in a given year, so if you ever find yourself face-to-face with a lethal viper, best not to test fate. 

No need to panic quite yet. Experts say they might be on the verge of achieving the closest thing to a universal snake bite antidote ever seen, and its chemical origins trace their roots back to an astonishingly unexpected place. According to National Geographic, the long-awaited serum to prevent the devastating effects of snake venom from claiming human lives could be found in the blood of opossums.  

Opossum blood could be used for an anti-venom

A few years back, scientists administered both snake venom and a certain peptide extracted from opossum blood to lab mice and observed their reactions. "The mice that were given the venom incubated with the peptide never showed any signs (of being sick)," professor Claire Komives of San Jose State University explained. "It was like a miracle, that this peptide really has this activity" (via National Geographic). The American Chemical Society reports that opossums are shockingly unaffected by snake bites, so a meticulous study in the particulars was more or less inevitable. 

If you ever happen upon a diamondback rattlesnake while on a hike somewhere and you're unlucky enough to get bitten, you very well may find your saving grace courtesy of that critter rummaging around your trash bin. While opossums aren't generally regarded as the most attractive of Mother Nature's progeny, their resilience to snake venom could provide a strong opportunity to save countless human lives in years to come. However, there's still a wide-ranging discussion on the matter that may indicate a significant amount of time before any such miraculous anti-venom becomes an accessible reality (per National Geographic).

Opossum blood and snake venom - it's complicated

Aside from having the fundamental capacity to flat out kill you, snake venom attacks the body on multiple different levels. According to National Geographic, there are several hundred different compounds and toxins in snake venom that can't really be combated with a single peptide, so concocting a universal anti-venom that fights the battle on all fronts is a wildly difficult task. 

"One set of toxins might attack your nerve cells while another set of toxins attacks your muscles," National Geographic's Dr. Zoltan Takacs shared. "Once you have a hundred toxins or more in your body, you would have to deactivate all of them, or at least the really bad ones, in order to prevent symptoms of the bite." The peptide's effectiveness is also very much contingent upon the specific snake that provided the bite. Nonetheless, what researchers continue to uncover about opossum blood and its promising attributes in negating the effects of snake venom is looking good.