Brazilian snake venom holds promise in fight against Covid

A molecule produced by the jararacussu pit viper inhibits the ability of the virus to reproduce, says study

The jararacussu pit viper is one of the largest serpents in Brazil, measuring up to two metres long. Reuters
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Snake venom tends to be somewhat injurious to human health but Brazilian researchers believe that a molecule within the deadly substance could hold the cure for Covid-19.

The snake with the potentially curative molecule is the jararacussu pit viper, one of the largest serpents in Brazil, measuring up to two metres long.

It lives in the coastal Atlantic Forest and is also found in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina.

A study published in the scientific journal Molecules this month found the molecule in question inhibited the virus's ability to multiply in monkey cells by 75 per cent.

"We were able to show this component of snake venom was able to inhibit a very important protein from the virus," said Rafael Guido, a University of Sao Paulo professor and author of the study.

The molecule is a peptide, or chain of amino acids, that can connect to an enzyme of the coronavirus called PLPro, which is vital to reproduction of the virus, without hurting other cells.

Already known for its antibacterial qualities, the peptide can be synthesised in the laboratory, Mr Guido said, making the capture or raising of jararacussu pit vipers unnecessary.

"We're wary about people going out to hunt the jararacussu around Brazil, thinking they're going to save the world ... that's not it!" said Giuseppe Puorto, a herpetologist running the Butantan Institute's biological collection in Sao Paulo. "It's not the venom itself that will cure the coronavirus."

Researchers will next evaluate the efficiency of different doses of the molecule and whether it is able to prevent the virus from entering cells in the first place, according to a statement from the State University of Sao Paulo which was also involved in the research.

They hope to test the substance in human cells but gave no timeline.

Updated: August 31, 2021, 6:55 PM