Jan 17, 2014

For goodness snakes: how decades-old venom could save lives

The discovery of snake venom collected in the 1950s could lead to a new breakthrough. But science writer Stephen Luntz says researchers should start saving their own archives -- the government might not.

In 1950, when antivenin was not available for most Australian snakes, a young man called Kevin Budden went to Cairns to catch Australia’s most venomous animal. He caught a specimen eating a rat, but was unable to get it into a sack as required. Consequently, and I swear I am not making this up, he hitchhiked to a friend’s house with his hand around the throat of the thrashing two-metre coastal taipan.

At the house he briefly lost his grip and was bitten. Before getting to hospital, where he died, Budden secured the snake in a bag and sent it on its way to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, where it was milked — an essential step to produce the antivenin, which has saved many lives (although not before nearly getting one of the researchers there as well).

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11 thoughts on “For goodness snakes: how decades-old venom could save lives

  1. paddy

    Standing ovation to Steven Luntz & Crikey.
    Not only an article on science, but a bloody good one as well!
    More please.

  2. drmick

    Agree with Paddy here. The investment in research is can never be seen as a loss or written off. Desired results and undesirable results have equal value. They teach people what not to do as well as what to do.
    I may be grasping at straws here, but is it too hard to imagine a moron, taking over the education program, with a view to dumbing it down further than his predecessors did? Aligning this destructive planned program of underfunding public schools by compliant state governments, in an attempt to perfect the crime of rewriting history the way they want it remembered, and dumbing down the population in the process? Churchill did it. A few American Presidents did it. I would not have thought this mob were bright enough to do it; but obviously it doesn’t take brains.

  3. zut alors

    I was unaware of the Budden story before, this was most informative. More science contributions, please.

    Governments saving money on storing archival material by destroying it is a great example of 21st century mindset – dispose, dispose, dispose. Meanwhile they destroy material with incalculable value.

    It reminds us of that old line about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. And the Abbott government springs immediately to mind.

  4. AR

    Wot those below sed – first class science writing. More please.

  5. Roy Inglis

    are the attacks on science and knowledge across the developed world or, just the English speaking and coincidently News Ltd dominated world?

    Is there a correlation between the rise of willfull ignorance and the rise of the News Ltd empire?

  6. Matt Hardin

    I sometimes fear we are heading for a new dark age. I feel like an educated Roman of the fifth century.

  7. Mark from Melbourne

    Good article. More science, not less please Tabbot

  8. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    Good work. On a different note I was wondering if there was a correlation between Private School Education and the lack of critical thinking. There is a correlation in terms of socioeconomic status ( I am amazed at the number of acquaintances I have who just don’t seem able to separate fact from internet fiction and have co-incidentally been educated at some of the supposedly ‘best’ schools in Australia.

  9. Electric Lardyland

    Yes, good article and more science please. But I do want to know: who the hell was it, who picked up a hitch hiker, that just happened to be holding a thrashing, two metre long taipan?

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