Generally when we think of monotremes like the platypus or the echidna, it’s either thanks to the Niffler, or as an example of a weird animal people trot out to try and argue for or against science. But the platypus is a weird little animal on its own merits, from its leathery bill to the fact that it’s the only mammal with venom. And that venom, it turns out, might be key in treating diabetes.
It all comes down to a common hormone, glucagon-like peptide-1, or GLP-1. Humans make GLP-1 in our guts all the time, and it stimulates the release of insulin to drop your blood sugar. One problem, though: in humans, it’s designed to break down extremely quickly, and is usually gone within minutes. In the platypus, however, for reasons nobody can quite figure out, it’s in both their gut and their venom, and that’s created changes in how GLP-1 breaks down that makes the hormone last a lot longer.
This is a big deal because stable GLP-1 would be a powerful treatment and give diabetes sufferers options beyond just injecting insulin. It would also open the door to pre-diabetes preventative treatments, depending on when the diagnosis was given and how treatments develop. Either way, the platypus might have just helped make millions of lives better, and it serves as a valuable reminder that we need to preserve nature not just to save the planet, but likely to save ourselves.