Look, an opossum! (Rodrique Ngowi/AP)

Let's face it, friends: Opossums aren't the most beloved creatures, at least by humans. But these little guys could save your life one day.

Opossums have a knack for fending off the effects of poisonous snake bites, and a team of researchers say they've developed the makings of an antivenom therapy without the same kind of nasty side-effects that burden current therapies. Led by San Jose University Prof. Claire F. Komives, the team presented the findings Sunday at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Some previous studies have noted the potential for opossums to be used in antivenom treatments. Opossums make a peptide (chain of amino acid proteins) that could counter snake venom.  In this new work, the team took the bacteria E. Coli and programmed it to make the peptide.

Mice that had been exposed to venom (from the Western Diamondback rattlesnake and Russel's viper) were treated with the therapy, and it neutralized the effects of the poison. The team plans to produce the therapy in greater quantities and test it on mice that have been exposed to other kinds of toxins.

Researchers believe the antivenom could also be used against scorpion stings and toxins from certain plants and bacteria.

The process of producing such a therapy is promising, especially for communities that are in need of cheap and quick ways to treat venomous bites. Synthetically producing the treatment from E.Coli is inexpensive, the researchers argue, and the antivenom is easily purified from the bacteria.

"Our approach is different because most antivenoms are made by injecting the venom into a horse and then processing the serum," Komives said in a statement. "The serum has additional components, however, so the patient often has some kind of adverse reaction, such as a rash, itching, wheezing, rapid heart rate, fever or body aches. The peptide we are using does not have those negative effects on mice."


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