The platypus is an odd duck of the animal world: an egg-laying, duck-billed, beaver-tailed mammal that baffled European naturalists when they first discovered it.
One of its more puzzling features is a spur on the back of the male's hind foot that can deliver venom capable of causing severe pain. However, the same venom that causes harm may soon be used to help diabetes patients.
Researchers at the University of Adelaide recently discovered evolutionary changes pertaining to the insulin regulation in the platypus and its fellow egg-laying mammal the echidna, which could pave the way for new diabetes type 2 treatments.
A hormone secreted in the gut of humans and animals, known as glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1), stimulates the release of insulin to lower blood glucose. It can also be found in the venom of platypuses. GLP-1 generally degrades in minutes, and therefore isn't sufficient to maintain a proper blood sugar balance in humans.
“Our research team has discovered that monotremes—our iconic platypus and echidna—have evolved changes in the hormone GLP-1 that make it resistant to the rapid degradation normally seen in humans” co-lead author Frank Grutzner, a professor at University of Adelaide's School of Biological Sciences, told Science Daily.
“We've discovered conflicting functions of the GLP-1 in the platypus: in the gut as a regulator of blood glucose, and in venom to fend off other platypus males during breeding season. This tug of war between the different functions has resulted in some dramatic changes in the GLP-1 system,” said co-lead author Briony Forbes, an associate professor at Flinders University's School of Medicine.
The findings, recently published in Nature research journal Scientific Reports, have the potential to dramatically change and inform diabetes type 2 treatments, a disease that affects 29 million Americans.