Scorpions are one of the oldest animals on Earth, having existed for more than 400 million years. Their venoms have been used in traditional therapies since antiquity in many countries, particularly in China and India.
Scorpion venoms contain a “fascinating cocktail” of biologically active peptides, many of which are very potent neurotoxins, while several have shown strong antibacterial and antiviral activities and are thought to play a role in protecting the venomous gland from microbial infection.
These peptides could serve as a good starting point to design novel anti-coronavirus drugs.
The project is supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund and led by Dr Wael Houssen, Fellow of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen, and Prof Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, Professor of Molecular Toxinology and Physiology in the Zoology Department, Faculty of Science, University of Suez Canal.
Collection of scorpion species were carried out under the tenets of the Convention on Biological Diversity and following the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization and the relevant legislations. After milking their venoms, scorpions were released into their natural habitats in the Egyptian Desert.
A venomous gland from each species was collected to analyse its genetic material which will reveal copious amounts of useful information on the venom peptide composition.
Scorpion venom is a very complex mixture containing hundreds of toxins and their analysis entails laborious experiments. After their purification and identification, venom peptides will be synthesised in higher quantities and structurally modified to confer drug-like properties using tailoring enzymes in the laboratory of Dr Houssen.
Dr Houssen said: “The study of scorpion venoms as a source of novel drugs is an exciting and productive area worthy of further investigation.
“We have already seen that these venoms contain extremely potent bioactive peptides, and we believe that there are many more await discovery.”
Professor Abdel-Rahman said: “Several scorpion species including the most toxic in the world are widespread in Egypt.
“Their venoms have not yet been fully studied and may represent an unorthodox source of new medicines.”