Molecule in snake venom inhibits coronavirus reproduction, Brazilian research reveals

Molecule in snake venom inhibits coronavirus reproduction, Brazilian research reveals

Snake Jararacuçu at the Butantan Institute, in São Paulo

by Leonardo Benassatto

SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian researchers have found a molecule present in the venom of the jararacuçu snake capable of inhibiting the reproduction of the coronavirus responsible for Covid-19, in a first step towards the possible development of a drug against the disease, the scientists announced.

According to the research, which was published this month in the scientific journal Molecules, tests carried out in the laboratory showed that the molecule extracted from the reptile’s venom inhibited the ability of the virus to multiply in monkey cells by 75%.

“We were able to see that the peptides not only inhibited the development of the virus in vitro, inside the cell, but we were also able to see that it was able to inhibit one of the proteins that is very important for the development of the virus, which is the factory of new viruses ”, said researcher Rafael Guido, a professor at the São Carlos Institute of Physics (IFSC), of the University of São Paulo (USP), and one of the leaders of the study, to Reuters.

The molecule is a peptide, or chain of amino acids, that can block a coronavirus enzyme called PLPro, vital for virus reproduction, without harming other cells.

Already known for its antibacterial qualities, the peptide can be synthesized in the laboratory, said Guido, making the capture or breeding of snakes unnecessary.

“We are afraid that people will go hunting jararacuçu throughout Brazil, thinking it will save the world or their group, their family… that’s not it,” said Giuseppe Puorto, director of the Biological Museum of the Butantan Institute. “The component that was discovered is a fraction within the venom, and it is not the venom itself that will cure the coranavirus at this time.”

The researchers will now evaluate the efficiency of different dosages of the molecule found in jararacuçu venom, as well as whether it can exert other functions in the cell, such as protection, even preventing the virus from invading it, according to the Universidade Estadual Paulista (Unesp), where the research was started.

“It’s the first step on a long journey… the process is very long. This component of the poison showed to people in this work that it has potential for development in there. On a long road, we took the first steps”, highlighted the researcher.

In addition to USP and Unesp, the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp) and the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) participated in the research.

The jararacuçu is one of the largest snakes in Brazil, measuring up to 1.80 meters, and lives in the Atlantic Forest. The snake can also be found in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina.

(Additional reporting by Pedro Fonseca, in Rio de Janeiro)

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