The platypus could help pave the way for future type 2 diabetes medication, researchers have said.
A team from the University of Adelaide think venom found in spurs of the duck-billed mammal’s hind limbs might potentially help them develop new drug treatments.
The male platypus has a spur on its hind foot which holds the venom, capable of hurting humans. Because this feature is so unique it has made the mammal – a common Australian iconic symbol – an important subject in many research studies looking at evolutionary biology.
The metabolic hormone glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), normally secreted in the gut of both humans and animals, has been found in the animal’s venom, as well as its gut. The hormone’s role helps stimulate insulin and reduce glucagon after meals, whilst also suppressing appetite. These properties have allowed a modified form of GLP-1 to become a commonly used treatment for type 2 diabetes.
But the platypus GLP-1 functions differently to the GLP-1 in humans and other animals. Possibly due its use in the venom, the GLP-1 in platypuses does not degrade as quickly as the human form.
Project leader Professor Frank Grutzner, from the University of Adelaide, said: “One of the most amazing discoveries of the platypus genome project was the massive loss of genes important for digestion and metabolic control – these animals basically lack a functional stomach.
“We have privileged access to these amazing animals. Male platypuses produce venom during the breeding seaso, and can deliver the venom from their hind spurs. We were surprised to see GLP-1 present in venom and think that this may have led to a more effective hormone.
“We already know that their GLP-1 works differently, and is more resistant to the rapid degradation normally seen in humans. Maybe this iconic Australian animal holds the answer to a more effective and safer management option for metabolic diseases including diabetes.”
The team are set to continue their research and are hoping to further investigate the “clinical relevance of platypus GLP-1”.

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