A major component my research program is our neurological testing to examine areas of evolutionary convergence and how these novel toxins can be used for drug design and development.

 Neurotoxic convergence,  click here to read the associated paper

Our research into the evolution of neurotoxins includes discovery that three finger toxins (3FTx) are not found exclusively in elapid snakes, as had long been believed. This dynamically evolving toxin type is responsible for the lethal paralytic symptoms so characteristic of these venoms. The first of these to be documented outside of an elapid venom was alpha-colubritoxin, which we isolated and characterised from the radiated ratsnake. Subsequently we showed that this toxin class was widely found in the venoms of advanced snakes. A series of papers on this topic can be downloaded here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. This documentation of the widespread distribution of this toxin type led to our theory that snake venom has a single early origin with the later expansion of this theory to be that the venom system in lizards and snakes shares a common starting substrate, with this reptile clade termed Toxicofera. Other neurotoxicity work has included studies on Australian terrestrial elapids as well as sea kraits and sea snakes, in addition to overseas species such as coral snakescobras and kraits

Another of our neurotoxicity discoveries was that the venom of the long-glanded blue coral snake (Calliophis bivirgatus) has neurotoxins quite unlike that of any other snake. Instead of blocking nerve transmission and producing flaccid (limp) paralysis like other elapids, it causes a spastic paralysis that is similar to that produced by a cone snail or a scorpion. This is due to toxins that delay the inactivation of sodium channels. Basically this is the neurological equivalent of pressing the gas pedal all the way to the floor, trapping it there, and cutting the brake lines. 

coralsnakesm copy.jpg

In addition to having the most unique venom of all snakes, and being amazingly beautiful, this species is also notable for its spectacular venom glands which extend a quarter the length of its body.

 Dissection of a preserved museum specimen, with the preserving chemicals having leached away the amazing red colouring of the belly

Dissection of a preserved museum specimen, with the preserving chemicals having leached away the amazing red colouring of the belly