Australia is synonymous with spiders and venomous snakes, but scientists have discovered new toxins in what they call a “truly poisonous” plant.
A team of researchers at the University of Queensland has discovered a previously unidentified neurotoxin that is similar to the venom found in spiders and conical snails.
Unlike its American and European counterparts, being stung by a dendrocnid tree – which means “stinging tree” – can cause pain that lasts for days or even weeks.
The researchers hope the study, recently published in Science Advances, will help provide new insights into how pain-sensitive nerves and the development of painkillers work. “Australian tree species are particularly notorious for producing painful stings,” said Irina Vetter, an associate professor at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland.
The dendrocnid plant, called the Gympie-Gympie, is a nettle in the rainforest that can be found in the eastern parts of Australia. Like other nettle-like plants, trees are covered with fine, needle-like threads and are known to cause extreme, long-lasting pain.
Ã¢ â¬ ÅGympietidesÃ¢ â¬ are similar to spider and snail cone toxins, in the way they fold into their molecular structures and target the same pain receptors, Vetter said. “This undoubtedly makes the Gympie-Gympie tree a truly 'poisonous' plant,” he added. Vetter said the long-term pain caused by trees can be explained by the fact that these toxins permanently change the sodium channels in a person's sensory neurons, as opposed to the fine hairs of plants that get stuck in the skin.
“By understanding how this toxin works, we hope to provide a better treatment for those who have been stung by the plant, to alleviate or eliminate the pain,” Vetter added.