The American opossum is invulnerable to nearly all forms of poison. (Damian Dovarganes/AP)Opossums may someday provide an antidote to nearly all forms of poison, including everything from snakebites to ricin.
The Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins has found that the American opossum produces a protein known as Lethal Toxin-Neutralizing Factor (LTNF). And as the Boing Boing blog points out, the LTNF protein is exactly what it sounds like, seeking out otherwise lethal poisons that have entered an opossum's body and neutralizing them.
Amazingly, tests on the opossum LTNF found that the protein even left the marsupial creatures immune to poisons from snakes on other continents that the American opossum had not been previously exposed to.
The BittelMeThis blog goes into further detail, explaining that scientists then injected mice with the LTNF protein and subjected the rodents to venom from otherwise deadly creatures, including Thailand cobras, Australian taipans, Brazilian rattlesnakes, scorpions and honeybees.
When the venom did not kill the mice, the mice were then exposed to deadly poisons, including ricin and botulinum toxin. And again, the LTNF protein was able to diffuse the poison, leaving the mice unharmed.
Interestingly, the journal entry on LTNF was published more than 10 years ago, in 1999. As several readers have pointed out, this raises questions as to whether the protein benefits would be applicable to humans and why the test results are only now making news.
As the journal's own abstract notes, "Thus, natural LTNF from opossum serum has potential as a universal therapy for envenomation caused by animals, plants and bacteria."