Scientists believe the venom produced by male platypuses may hold the key to developing a potential new treatment for type 2 diabetes.
Research published in the journal ‘Scientific Reports’ has found that platypus and echidna (a spiny anteater) venom contains a long-lasting version of the hormone GLP-1, which is responsible for releasing insulin to lower blood glucose levels.
The same GLP-1 hormone is produced and released in the human gut, but is far less stable and degrades within minutes.
Adelaide University evolutionary biologist Frank Grutzner said the longer lifespan of the hormone found in the platypus and the echidna suggested there was a possibility of developing drugs with an extended action of GLP-1 in people with type 2 diabetes.
He said: “This will prove useful for biomedical research, as there is a lot of potential there. The hormone is central to metabolic control.”
Male platypuses fight for mating rights during the breeding season and can spike a rival with a poisoned spur found on their back legs. The venom enters the bloodstream – however the poisoned animal has the ability to degrade it.
Professor Grutzner added: “It’s remarkable that they can firstly produce a more stable hormone and then secondly that they have the ability to degrade it. If you put the hormone into blood from a human or a mouse it wouldn’t degrade.”
The platypus and echidna also produce the GLP-1 hormone in their gut to control blood sugar levels, in exactly the same way as humans.
Because the animal venom hormone doesn’t degrade as rapidly, researchers are hopeful this will lead to the development of new drugs to manage diabetes in humans.

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