Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Scorpion Venom Unlocked

By Stephen Luntz

The first comprehensive study of the venom of Australian scorpions has helped understanding of the evolution of these creatures, and may lead to painkilling medications.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Australia is well-known for its dangerous snakes, spiders, jellyfish and octopi, but scorpion venom rarely gets a mention. There is a reason for that – Australian scorpions are small and most prey on small insects. “It is the prey that drives venom development with them, and it’s not designed for vertebrates so it is seldom fatal to humans,” says A/Prof Bryan Fry of the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences.

Moreover, while Australian scorpions are widespread they don’t tend to venture into houses much so stings are rare. In Mexico, Fry notes, there are half a million stings each rainy season, dwarfing the impact of snakes and spiders worldwide.

While Australian scorpions may not be deadly, some species can still be extraordinarily painful while others cause numbness. “The compounds which cause numbness can be directly useful in treating pain, and the ones that cause pain can teach us a lot about how pain works and how we can reduce it.

“We have a remarkably poor grasp of how pain works,” Fry says. “These can help us discover new receptors, new receptor subtypes and binding.

“Different sorts of pain respond to different painkillers in different ways. Some sorts of pain don’t respond to any painkillers because we don’t know about those receptors. If these bind to a receptor and turn it on, a slight modification might turn it...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.