Snake venom tells tales about geography

Just as people give away their origins by that southern drawl or New England twang, poisonous snakes produce venom that differs distinctly from one geographic area to another, the first study of the "snake venomics" of one of the most common pit vipers in Latin America has found.

The study is scheduled for the August 1 issue of ACS' monthly Journal of Proteome Research.

In the new study, Juan J. Calvete and colleagues point out that researchers have known for decades that venom collected from snakes of the same species from different geographic locations can differ in terms of their biological effects and symptoms on snakebite victims. However, scientists know little about the chemical differences behind these geographically different venoms.

To find out, the scientists collected venom samples from adult and newborn specimens of the lancehead pitviper from two geographically isolated populations from the Caribbean and Pacific regions of Costa Rica. After a detailed laboratory analysis of the proteins found in the venom — so-called "snake venomics" — the researchers found major differences in the venoms collected from the two regions. They also found distinct differences in proteins collected from newborns and adult snakes. The study "highlights the necessity of using pooled venoms as a statistically representative venom for antivenom production" for human snakebite victims, the report states.-American Chemical Society