Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Venomous Animals Week Every Cloud
26 December 2014

Every Cloud

This snake is telling you why it’s called the black mamba. "Not because of my scales", it’s trying to say, "but check out my inky black gums". The black mamba is the fastest snake in the world – “as fast as a galloping horse”, wrote British author Roald Dahl – and the second longest venomous snake after the king cobra. It’s extremely toxic, with reports of people dying within twenty minutes of being bitten. Black mambas particularly like sugar cane plantations and, as their natural habitat becomes subsumed by agricultural land, they’re increasingly coming into contact with humans. But there’s a silver lining to this rather black cloud. Their venom contains peptides that target acid-sensing ion channels (ASICs), key players in the pain pathway in humans. These peptides inhibit ASICs, which abolishes pain. Perhaps this nefarious creature will provide us with an alternative to painkillers like morphine.

Written by Nick Kennedy

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