‘Snake venom beer’ could prevent blood clotting

A research team in China has cultured snake venom in yeast in the hope that it could one day be used to treat strokes and heart failure.

The traditional method of extracting venom. The 'yeast' method means it can be mass produced for the first time.

The traditional method of extracting venom. The ‘yeast’ method means it can be mass produced for the first time.

Chinese scientists have injected the genes of venomous snake the pit viper into yeast in order to explore the effects of its anti-blood clotting properties, reported the SCMP.

The yeast, named pichia pastoris, which is the same yeast used in beer fermentation, was cultured at room temperature and fed with glycerol and methanol until it started to produce venom proteins which are reputed to prevent clotting in blood vessels.

The team behind the study, which has been published in the journal, Scientific Reports, said it was the first time the snake venom had been able to be “mass produced.”

“We encountered lots of challenges. Transferring the gene from one species to another is easy but to keep the new species alive and useful is extremely difficult,” said Xiao Weihua, lead scientist at University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, the capital and largest city of Anhui Province.

The anti-clotting protein Agkisacutalin is said to have very little side effects and its efficacy has been proven in previous clinical trials, but the problem of handling natural venom has meant the authorities have not approved its use in conventional medicine.

Weihua and his team are working with a medical company in Hefei and hope that one day, they will be able to make it commercially available and treat patients suffering from strokes or heart failure.

“All anti-coagulant medicines at present lead to excessive bleeding but Agkisacutalin doesn’t,” he continued.

The pit viper in question is known as the “five pace” snake in some parts of China because it is believed that its poisonous bite can kill a person after they have taken a few steps.

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