ARI is contributing its expertise in venomous snakes in a collaboration with Museum Victoria and the University of Melbourne's Australian Venom Research Unit. The aim of this project is to establish a collection of venomous terrestrial and marine animals and their venoms at the Museum, to form a basis for medical research and taxonomic and biodiversity studies. Animal venoms have two main uses in medicine: as the basis for effective antivenoms, and in the development of natural product-based pharmaceutical tools. The effectiveness of these uses will be optimised by a taxonomically complete venom and associated animal specimen collection, which is currently lacking.
ARI's role includes collecting various venomous snake species from the wild (including the Tiger Snake, Lowland Copperhead, Highland Copperhead, Eastern Small-eyed Snake and White-lipped Snake), and milking them of their venom. Nick Clemann has been trained in this procedure by Peter Mirtschin, founder of Venom Supplies in South Australia. Venom glands are also removed to build a tissue library of genetic material for studying topics such as gene expression and its variation within and among species. This will contribute to our understanding of the taxonomic relationships between snake species, and aid biodiversity management.
The multidisciplinary nature of this project, spanning biodiversity, venom and medical experts from several institutions, has strengthened relationships between these sectors and facilitated the development of innovative research. It is intended that this collaboration will result in Australia's first comprehensive regional venom bank containing material that will be available for research in public health, drug discovery, taxonomy and conservation biology.