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“They just don’t need it.”

Muzafal Ali Khan in the field holding an adder.Credit: Leiden University

Eat or be eaten. Describes snakes and the evolutionary arms race of mammals and birds that prey on these snakes. Muzafal Ali Khan received his PhD. He is to investigate the play of the molecular mechanism of the evolutionary arms race, and his promotion is February 16th. What are the reasons why mammals and birds succeed in hunting snakes?


“I grew up in Pakistan, which is part of the world where some farmers have peacocks. Peacocks are famous for their ability to attack and kill snakes,” Khan says. “I wanted to know more about animals that can kill dangerous snakes, and I wanted to know how they do it.” Michael Richard of the Institute of Biology Leiden (IBL) Under Son’s supervision, Kahn analyzed molecular resistance to cobra venom and found significant differences in resistance between animal groups.

Mammalian genetic resistance is different

Kahn examined several snake-eating mammals, including mongooses in Asia, hedgehogs in Europe, and honey badgers. He determined that only mammals that shared territory with snakes had evolved some form of resistance.Made resistance Snake Preventing the toxin from binding to its target reduces the potency of the poison mammalian body.

More interestingly, the changes Khan found in DNA were not the same in all animals. Kahn: “That is, different animals have evolved resistance in their own way. Common ancestor It was already resistant in the first place. This indicates that it is essential for some mammals to protect against cobra venom. Otherwise, the snake won and killed. “

Birds have no genetic resistance

With this in mind, Kahn saw some bird Of birds that eat prey and other snakes. Takas, eagles, secretarybirds, peacocks, especially red-legged squirrels, were investigated. But when Khan analyzed their DNA, he was surprised. None of these snake eaters, from a genetic point of view, even slightly resisted snake venom. “The discovery was fascinating. Why can these birds kill snakes?”

Khan and supervisor Richardson have a theory. “Some birds attack snakes without punishment, even if they don’t resist,” says Richardson. “Resistance seems redundant. There is no selection pressure. Birds have feathers, scaly legs, excellent visibility, are very intelligent and very agile. Snakes have a chance to counter all these adaptations. Birds don’t have to be resistant because they don’t. “

Race of life and death

Kahn adds: “They know how to kill snakes at speed and distract them. They open their wings to distract the snakes and peck at the back of their neck away from their fangs. This is an action movie. It’s like .. It’s a race of life and death. “

Treatment of snakebites

Both researchers want to continue their research on the difference in resistance. Snake venom.. “For example, it turns out that snakes that live in the same area as other snake species have often evolved some form of molecule. resistance “We want to understand the genetic variation between animal groups. Every year, thousands of people around the world die from snake bites, especially in Asia and Africa. One day, we Wants to use their knowledge to develop genetic therapy, which can potentially save the lives of many. ”


Primate vs Cobra: How the Last Common Descent Built Poison Resistance


Provided by
Leiden University

Quote: Snake-eating birds have no poison resistance: “They don’t need it” (February 15, 2022) from https://phys.org/news/2022-02-venom-resistance-snake- Get February 15, 2022 Eat-Birds-dont.html

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“They just don’t need it.”

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