Genome of the Indian Cobra decoded

Just recently, a team of scientists from India, the USA and additional countries successfully analyzed and published the full genome (genetic sequence) of the Indian Cobra (Naje naje), one of the world’s most medically important venomous snakes. The Indian Cobra is responsible for tens of thousands of envenomation cases annually in the Indian subcontinent, of these thousands ending in death and many more thousands causing mild to severe disability.

The decoding of the Indian Cobra’s genome paves the road for future development of synthetic cobra anti-venom (the antidote for snakebite). Currently, antivenoms are manufactured through a lengthy and expensive process which includes injecting non-lethal  doses of snake venom into the bloodstream of cows or horses, prompting the animals’ immune system to produce antigens to the active compounds of the venom. After months (or longer), the animals’ blood contains enough antigens to the venom and useful amounts may be extracted from their blood plasma and used as antivenom for treating snakebite victims. As stated, this is a lengthy and expensive process, and unfortunately the antivenom produced with this technique also includes compounds that may be harmful (even deadly) to the patient to whom the antivenom is administered. Production of synthetic antivenom will be more efficient, faster, cheaper and safer for use, with less medical complications. Since the Indian Cobra’s venom contains hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different molecules, the researchers speculate that a multitude of medically useful compounds may be identified within the cobra’s venom in the future.

It is very likely that several years will pass, before we actually witness commercial synthetic antivenom products replacing the old generation “traditional” antivenoms. But undoubtedly we have seen a significant step towards improving the treatment and reducing mortality for victims of Indian Cobra envenomation.

On the morning of Monday 13th January 2020, the radio program “Three That Know” on “Kan Tarbut” radio station aired an interview about this subject with Dr. Boaz Shacham, manager of the herpetological collection at the NNHC. The pre-recorded interview was conducted by international telephone call, due to the fact that Dr. Shacham was at the time in New Zealand, attending the 9th World Congress of Herpetology (WCH9).

 

Link to radio “KAN TARBUT” station interview with Dr. Boaz Shacham: http://www.ifatmediasite.com/ms/radio/2020/01/13/9669888.mp3

Link to the original article:  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41588-019-0559-8.pdf

Pictured: taming snakes at a southern Thailand tourist farm. This is not an Indian cobra, but a monocular cobra. Photo: Boaz Shacham