Scientists Have Re-Engineered Yeast To Produce Snake Venom

Senior Contributor
07.21.15 3 Comments
pit viper

Wikimedia Commons/Uajith

It reads like a bad pulp novel plot: Scientists have removed two key genes from yeast, replaced them with pit viper genes, and now the yeast, instead of making the poison we like to drink, is instead making pit viper venom. But this is A) real, and B) done for non-mad-science reasons.

Chinese researchers weren’t looking for the venom; they were looking for a protein in the venom, Agkisacutalin, which is a powerful anticoagulant and useful for preventing heart attacks and strokes, and when separated from that whole “insanely powerful poison that can kill you within five steps” thing, has few side effects. It’s just that to get it, you have to milk pit vipers. Even the Chinese view this as unreasonable, and Chinese worker safety laws mostly boil down to, “Don’t get caught by a Western journalist.” Besides, put that on your resume and you’ll never get a job doing anything else.

There are some issues. Unsurprisingly, the yeast do not take to producing snake venom very well and tend to die after 38 hours of production. But they’re working to scale it up for mass production, and long-term, this could be key in reducing the severity and even preventing strokes and cardiac events. It is also incredibly metal, and that, as we know, is the most important standard when measuring scientific achievement.

(via PopSci)

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